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Buckley, Mars (1825–1905)

by J. Ann Hone

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

Mars Buckley (1825-1905), by unknown photographer, c1890

Mars Buckley (1825-1905), by unknown photographer, c1890

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H31278

Mars Buckley (1825?-1905), businessman, was born at Mallow, County Cork, Ireland. In 1851 he sailed to Victoria with his wife Elizabeth Maroon, née Neville, one child, goods to sell and letters of introduction. After some successful months at the Ballarat and Forest Creek goldfields Buckley returned to Melbourne and on the arrival of another consignment of goods began business in Bourke Street, taking into partnership Crumpton John Nunn (1828-1891), who soon returned to England to manage that end of the business. Buckley & Nunn's drapery store first occupied a wooden building, 9 ft (2.7 m) by 30 ft (9.1 m), with a yearly rental of £250. The great expansion of the next few years enabled Buckley to rent larger premises at £3000 a year and he bought the land for £22,000, acquiring a Bourke Street frontage of 27 ft (8.2 m), soon extended to 162 ft (49 m) with a depth of 300 ft (91 m) to Post Office Place. In 1859 Buckley gave evidence to the select committee on the tariff; he was then employing twenty women and importing most of his goods through Dalgetys. In the 1860s he established direct communications with the main British firms, and the store made annual profits of about £40,000. In 1866 Buckley helped to found the Commercial Bank of Australia.

At the end of the 1860s Nunn visited the colony and persuaded Buckley, who was already dreaming of retirement, to continue the partnership. However, on Nunn's death by suicide in 1891 Buckley immediately offered the business for sale in London. He rejected an offer of £300,000 and sold it to Robert Reid for the price he wanted. In 1892 Reid disposed of the business in London for the figure mentioned. Buckley foresaw the collapse of the land boom, telling those who urged him to speculate, 'these values are fictitious; it is all a matter of paper'. As soon as the run on the banks began 'Old Tapes and Ribbons' with two assistants carrying two large trunks drew £10,000 in sovereigns and put them in safe deposit. By 1900 he could claim to have 'The Oldest-Established Drapery House in Victoria and the Most Fashionable Resort for Shopping in Australia'.

Buckley hated publicity and took no part in political or municipal life, engrossing himself in his business. There for forty years he ruled supreme, feared as a disciplinarian but respected for his shrewdness, integrity and frankness. He was a thickset man with bushy eyebrows and a passion for horse-riding. He often rode at four or five in the morning and every Saturday followed the hounds, a sport he had loved since childhood. In 1860 he had joined the Victorian Light Dragoons.

In 1863 Buckley, at enormous cost, built his mansion, Beaulieu (now St Catherine's School), Heyington Place, Toorak. There, aged 80, he died suddenly on 9 October 1905, survived by his wife and five of their seven children. Of his four surviving sons, Gerald Neville was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and bought Narrapumelap station from the executors of John Wyselaskie; Percy Neville became a lieutenant-colonel and Godfrey and Charles Mars returned to England.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Meudell, The Pleasant Career of a Spendthrift and his Later Reflections (Melb, 1935)
  • Buckley & Nunn Ltd, Guide to Melbourne (Melb, 1902)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1904
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 Oct 1905
  • Draper of Australasia, 27 Oct 1905.

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Buckley, Mars (1825–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buckley-mars-3104/text4609, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 October 2014.

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

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