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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Blyth, John (1824–1908)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Blyth (1824-1908), merchant, was born on 31 August 1824 in Africa, son of William Blyth and his wife Christian, née Crookshanks, of Garvald, East Lothian, Scotland. On leaving school he entered a grain and produce firm and had his own business for six years before he decided to try his luck on the Californian diggings. In 1852 he arrived at the Victorian goldfields, was unsuccessful and turned to milling at Newstead, near Castlemaine. In the early 1860s he moved to Melbourne and with John Wallace established a mercantile firm and shipping agency, securing the agency for the Loch line. The firm was later known as Macfarlane, Blyth & Co. and finally as John Blyth & Co. Blyth had other business interests and on the Yarra bank owned bone mills (Blyth, Irvine & Binnie) which he moved in 1882 to Footscray when requested by the government. He invested in the Queensland sugar industry, mills on the Loddon and in the New South Wales pastoral industry. In all these ventures he prospered until the 1890s when he crashed heavily, but courageously and cheerfully refounded his fortunes.

Blyth gave much time and energy to community affairs. In 1877 he was a member of the Harbor Trust Committee appointed to select an engineer and he was an active commissioner from 1883 to 1902. He was a frequent spokesman and representative for the trust's development schemes, defended it against the 1892 attack by the Age and served as chairman in 1898-1901. Blyth was a member of the Corn Trade Association and president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1883-85 and proposed their amalgamation. He represented the chamber on the Calcutta Exhibition Commission and was a delegate at the 1883 conference with the Chamber of Manufactures held to discuss intercolonial free trade. A council member of the Royal Agricultural Society and president for a term, Blyth scorned the suggestion that good quality tobacco could be grown in the Goulburn Valley. He was a director of the Melbourne Hydraulic Power Co., formed in 1887, vice-president of the Economic Permanent Building Society in 1890, a supporter of the Old Colonists' Association and the St John Ambulance Association, on the Alfred Hospital committee, chairman of the Women's Model Lodging House, trustee of the Sailors' Home, a committee member of the Royal Caledonian Society and a commissioner for the 1888 exhibition.

Blyth was married twice: first in 1854 to Catherine Preston, by whom he had nine children; second in 1871 to Ellen Richards, by whom he had eight children. Five sons attended Melbourne Grammar School; David became a partner of David Blyth & Co., Sydney. A daughter married William Kiddle of Walbundrie, New South Wales. Blyth, a Presbyterian who became a leading supporter of Dr Charles Strong's Australian Church, died at Blythswood, Lilydale, on 24 December 1908, survived by his second wife, six daughters and seven sons.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • B. Hoare, Jubilee History of the Melbourne Harbor Trust (Melb, 1927)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 26 Dec 1908.

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Blyth, John (1824–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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