George Fife Angas was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 1 May 1789. He was the 7th child and 5th son of Caleb Angas, coachmaker and shipowner, and his second wife Sarah Jameson, the widowed daughter of John Lindsay, tobacconist.
He was a boarding pupil at Catterick School for a time, before being apprenticed to his father. By the age of 18 he had already shown an interest in, and aptitude for, banking, having established a Savings Bank and Provident Fund for the working men at his father’s coachmaking factory.
By 1822 Angas was a senior partner in the family business. In 1824 he formed the London shipping company GF Angas & Co. A year later, following unsuccessful speculation in foreign bonds, he was nearly bankrupted, but saved by a gift from his father.
National Provincial Bank of England
In 1828 Angas’s cousin Thomas Joplin asked for his assistance with a new banking scheme. Historically, English banks (other than the Bank of England) had been restricted to partnership status, which severely limited their size and stability. This situation had changed in 1826, when a new law permitted so-called ‘joint stock’ banks to be founded, owned by large numbers of shareholders. Joplin was one of the leading champions of the new banks, and his own scheme was particularly ambitious. He proposed a new business that would have an administrative head office in London, but its branches all over the country would be owned locally and managed semi-autonomously.
Angas agreed to provide some funding for the new company’s preliminary expenses. He also took shares in the company, and a seat on the board. The prospectus for the new banking company was issued in 1833, and Angas sat on the committee tasked with bringing the new institution into existence.
The committee meetings in 1833 were somewhat turbulent, but Angas believed it was his duty to continue in the directorship and uphold his cousin’s original vision for the bank’s deed of settlement. His commitment was rewarded and the deed of settlement of the new bank, National Provincial Bank of England, was finally ready in September 1833.
By 1835, Joplin’s original idea of semi-autonomous local banks linked together as a branch network had proved unworkable, and was dropped. Nevertheless, the bank itself was thriving. By 1836 it had opened a total of 32 branches in England and Wales. Soon afterwards, Angas resigned his interest in the bank.
Angas became interested in the settlement of South Australia, and in 1832 joined the committee of the South Australian Land Company. Sales of land through the company proved slow; Angas believed that the prices had been set too high, and formed a new company which offered to buy the land at a significantly discounted price. The offer was accepted, and his South Australia Company bought some 13,700 acres. The company’s first three ships, carrying emigrants, livestock and provisions to the colony, set sail in 1836.
In 1836 Angas set up the Union Bank of Australia in England. In 1840 he founded the South Australian Banking Company, through which he accomplished the separation of the banking business from within the South Australian Land Company.
By the 1840s Angas’s personal fortunes were suffering, forcing him to sell his business in Newcastle and dispose of certain other assets. In 1851 he emigrated to South Australia, taking with him his wife and youngest son, and joining his older sons, who had already emigrated to the colony. The family settled at Lindsay Park in the Barossa Valley, near Angaston, the town named after him.
Soon after his arrival in Australia he became a justice of the peace and a member of the Board of Education. He was later elected to the Legislative Council for Barossa district. He opposed state aid to religion but supported bible reading in schools. Himself a fervent Baptist, he wanted South Australia to be Australia’s most protestant colony, and repeatedly spoke against allowing Catholics to settle there and, later, hold office. His anti-Catholic attitudes became particularly strong in his later years, perhaps made all the more personal by his eldest son’s marriage in 1849 to a Roman Catholic. He retired from the Legislative Council in 1866.
On 12 April 1812 in London he married Rosetta French (1796–1867). They had three sons and four daughters together. Their eldest son George French Angas (1822-86) became an artist in Australia. Another son, John Howard Angas, settled in Adelaide in 1843 to manage his father’s affairs.
Rosetta died in January 1867.
George Fife Angas died on 15 May 1879, aged 90, at Lindsay Park, Angaston. He was buried in the family vault at Lindsay Park next to his wife.
Related publications and online sources
- ‘George Fife Angas’ in Australian Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- ‘George Fife Angas’ on Flinders Ranges Research
- ‘George Fife Angas’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- H Withers, National Provincial Bank 1833-1933 (London: privately published, 1933)