Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alcock, Randal James (1853–1927)

by Roger C. Thompson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Randal James Alcock (1853-1927), merchant, was born on 20 July 1853 at Collingwood, Victoria, eldest son of Edmund Alcock, a London-born painter and decorator, and his wife Mary Ann, née Ramsey, of Montreal, Canada. His parents were married in New York in 1850 and migrated from London to Victoria in 1851. Leaving school at 13, Alcock joined James Service & Co., import merchants and shipping agents, as a junior clerk. He showed such rare judgment of men and affairs that Service made him managing partner when he was only 33. His fellow businessmen elected him president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce for three consecutive terms in 1895-98. In 1896 the Victorian government appointed him to a board of inquiry into the telephone system and over the years consulted him on economic matters. After Service's death in 1899 Alcock bought his interest in the company and continued under the same name in partnership with James Ormond. They promptly expanded its prospering wholesale grocery and shipping operations by taking over the Robur Tea Co. In 1918 Alcock became sole proprietor. He was also chairman of directors of the Royal Bank of Australia and of the Mercantile Mutual (fire and marine) Insurance Co. Ltd. His motto was 'I must be thorough'.

In 1912 Alcock had made his fourth overseas trip when, representing the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, he attended imperial and international congresses in London and in Boston, United States of America; he found overseas travel 'a most liberal education'. He was a council-member of Trinity Grammar School and Trinity College, University of Melbourne, and helped to found Swinburne Technical College. For many years Alcock lived at Hawthorn where he was a leading member of St Columb's Anglican Church. He was a lay canon of St Paul's Cathedral, a trustee of the Church, and for many years honorary treasurer of the Victorian Mission to Seamen. A justice of the peace, he was active in the Australian Health Society, the Philharmonic Society and many other charitable and community activities, and was a founder of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. His 'highly esteemed' luncheon colleagues at Scott's Hotel included George Swinburne, Sir William McBeath and Sir William McPherson; there 'public affairs were sifted with close criticism and constructive argument'.

Highly respected as a leader of Melbourne's business community and for his power of decision, persistence and genial temperament, Alcock seemed an obvious candidate for parliament. One journalist wrote in 1912 that 'if only men like R. J. Alcock could be installed in our Parliaments the whole business of politics would very soon undergo a radical change'. He resisted requests to stand for election but, influenced by Service, took a keen interest in politics and actively supported Federation. He was a stalwart of the Liberal and National parties, campaigning at the local level for Federal and State candidates, and in particular for McPherson. His advice and judgment were sought by political leaders.

On 12 August 1879 at Melbourne, Alcock had married Sarah Louisa Watt. They had no children, but Alcock was an encouraging and understanding uncle and friend to many young people, virtually adopting five and bringing two into his own household. A shortish man, with a rolling gait, he was an inveterate pipe-smoker. He always went to work by public transport, clad in morning dress and top hat; his office was simple and bare. His skill in mental arithmetic was impressive, but he was not a great reader: his spare time was taken up with charities and the Church. He died of cancer at his home, Crossakiel, Hawthorn, on 30 May 1927 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery; a large crowd attended his funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral. His estate was valued for probate at £865,816 and included generous legacies to relations, friends, employees and servants as well as the university, the Church of England and charities. He also directed that £40,000 be invested as the Randal and Louisa Alcock Fund, from which annual legacies were to be distributed. The fund came into operation on 1 January 1935 after his wife's death the previous August.

Select Bibliography

  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 11 May 1895
  • Traveller (Sydney), 16 May 1896, 22 May 1897, 26 Mar 1904
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Apr 1898, 31 May 1927
  • Australian Storekeepers and Traders' Journal, 31 Jan 1911
  • Punch (Melbourne), 4 Apr 1912
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 May, 2 June 1927.

Citation details

Roger C. Thompson, 'Alcock, Randal James (1853–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/alcock-randal-james-4991/text8293, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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