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Buck, Henry (1860–1933)

by Allan F. Willingham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Henry Buck, n.d.

Henry Buck, n.d.

photo from Henry Bucks

Henry Buck (1860-1933), clothing manufacturer and retailer, was born on 26 November 1860 at Clerkenwell, London, second child of Thomas Buck (1819-1886), master electro-plater, later a corn factor, and his wife Ann, née Swinburn. Henry grew up at Bridge House, Danby, Yorkshire, and entered the soft goods trade in Milk Lane, London, in May 1873. Suffering from tuberculosis, he migrated to New South Wales in 1887 and worked at Manfred, a sheep-raising property near Euston. Here his health improved. His fiancée Laura Jane Rose joined him, but was repelled by life on the remote station and they moved to Melbourne. On 25 June 1887 at Armadale the couple married with Presbyterian forms.

Buck worked as a bookbinder's assistant, losing his job in 1890 after rashly demanding an increase in salary. He sought a job with a friend, who had borrowed £50 from him to set up a shirt store, but found that he had been duped. Rather than take legal action, Buck assumed control of the deserted shop and Laura took over as book-keeper. With the assistance of two machinists, Henry learned the trade of shirt cutting and opened a new retail store on 25 August 1890 in the fashionable Queens Walk, off Swanston Street.

Although he struggled in the depression, within a decade Buck had won repute as an exclusive maker of made-to-measure shirts, using the finest English cloth. In the early 1900s he diversified into warehousing and wholesaling, and founded Wallace Buck & Goodes Pty Ltd, the London Tie Co. Pty Ltd and Beaucaire Knitting Mills. At 35 Rockley Road, South Yarra, in 1910 he had built, from designs by architects H. W. & F. B. Tompkins, a two-storey house, Danby. The Bucks lived there until 1926.

Henry and Laura had four children, three of whom had died by 1912. On 26 August 1919 their surviving child Elsie Maude married Frederick William Dennett, an English concert pianist, then on a world tour with Jack Waller's company. Their working honeymoon ended at Bombay, India, when Dennett accepted Buck's cabled offer to join the firm; in 1921 he became a director of Henry Buck & Co. Pty Ltd. About the same time Buck formed Eyelets Pty Ltd, with his enthusiastic and talented son-in-law as the principal partner.

Tall and handsome, Buck was a respected figure in Melbourne—where he belonged to the Commercial Travellers' Association, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Master Drapers' Association of Victoria—as well as in London, where he was a member of the Portland Club. He was an authority on bridge and solo and belonged to the Melbourne Philharmonic Society. Buck discreetly supported many charitable institutions including the Australian division of the British Red Cross Society. In 1915 he set up and directed the latter's Volunteer Motor Corps, providing transport for returned servicemen and nurses after disembarkation and health trips for invalids. He was appointed O.B.E. on 19 October 1920.

In Buck's later years he left the management of the business to the Dennetts and with his wife made fourteen visits to their homeland. Henry died on 7 May 1933 at Marylebone, London, and was cremated, survived by his wife and daughter. His family inherited most of his estate, sworn for probate at £100,054, but his will also provided for several loyal employees, as well as a £3000 scholarship in his name at the University of Melbourne and a £2500 bequest to the Children's Hospital. Laura died in 1960, and the firm moved in 1963 to the new Colonial Mutual Building, Collins Street, where the plush atmosphere of the old store was re-created. Therein, the life of the founder, a celebrated figure in the Australian clothing industry, was commemorated in a display of photographs and memorabilia.

Select Bibliography

  • Table Talk, 28 Aug 1919, pp 1, 5
  • Draper of Australasia, 31 May 1933, p 27
  • Australian Storekeepers and Traders’ Journal, 31 May 1933
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 May 1933, p 7
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 May 1933, p 6
  • A. Willingham, Residence (formerly Danby) 35 Rockley Road South Yarra 3141: A Cultural History (typescript, 1998, privately held)
  • Henry Buck Pty Ltd records, Collins Street, Melbourne
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Allan F. Willingham, 'Buck, Henry (1860–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buck-henry-12824/text23151, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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