Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clark, Sir Reginald Marcus (1883–1953)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Sir Reginald Marcus Clark (1883-1953), retailer, was born on 9 November 1883 at Newtown, Sydney, son of Henry Marcus Clark, draper, and his native-born first wife Martha Annie, née Day. His father was born at Liverpool, England, and migrated to Victoria in 1880. He soon moved to Sydney and in 1883 started a small drapery shop at Newtown; the firm prospered, becoming universal distributors, and in 1902 Marcus Clark & Co. Ltd was registered as a public company.

Reginald was educated at Sydney Grammar School and at 19 went to London to undertake a surrogate apprenticeship in wholesaling and retailing. He returned to Sydney in 1907 and next year became a director of Marcus Clark's. On 23 June 1909 at the Church of Christ Tabernacle, Enmore, he married Frances Hanks Rogers, the London-born daughter of a journalist. On his father's death in 1913, Clark became chairman and managing director of the family firm and its subsidiaries—Hobsons Ltd, its North Sydney store; Bon Marche Ltd, Railway Square (1900); and Marcus Clark (Victoria) Ltd (1923), which managed Craig, Williamson Pty Ltd in Melbourne and, from 1927, Miller Anderson Ltd in Adelaide. He was also a director of Hipsleys Ltd and on the Sydney board of the London and Lancashire Insurance Co. Ltd. The firm was hard hit by the Depression and failed to pay dividends from 1931 until after writing down its capital in 1937.

In 1916-18 Clark was president of the Master Retailers' Association (Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales from 1921) and of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce in 1933-36. He was a director and later vice-president of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and a life governor of the Women's Hospital, Crown Street, and the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne; in 1934-36 he was a member of the Board of Health. His war service was strictly commercial: he served as an adviser to the Commonwealth prices commissioner in 1918-19 and 1939-48 and was vice-chairman of the Requisitioned Cargoes Committee in 1942-48.

Like his business rival (Sir) Charles Lloyd Jones Clark was a noted, if conservative, collector of English and Australian works of art; in 1939 he became a trustee of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. Knighted that year, he became known as Sir Marcus. He had a passion for collecting coins, and to a lesser extent, antique china, and was president of the Australian Numismatic Society. Actively interested in golf and racing he was a member of the Killara Golf Club and the Australian Jockey and Victoria Racing clubs; he was a member of a number of others including the New South Wales, National and the Melbourne Savage.

A staunch monarchist, Clark was a fellow of the Royal Empire Society and was also State vice-president of the Royal Society of St George and a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. As president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia and a vice-president of the Federated Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire in 1939-41 and 1943-45, he emerged as a leading opponent of the Federal government's attempts to regulate retail trade. In 1944 he attacked 'regulation by dictators', alleging that the government was using 'gestapo methods' to control business. In 1948-49 he was vice-president of the Citizens Reform Association, Labor's opponent in Sydney Municipal Council elections.

Clark died in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital with hypertensive vascular disease on 13 July 1953 and was cremated after a service at St John's Church of England, Gordon. Predeceased by his son, he was survived by his wife and daughter. His personal estate was valued for probate at £80,475. In 1948 his portrait by William Dargie won the Archibald prize.

Select Bibliography

  • Stanton & Son Ltd, Marcus Clark & Co. Ltd., Sale of Premises (Syd, 1927)
  • D. B. Copland and R. M. Clark, Profits and Price Control (Syd, 1941)
  • Commerce (Sydney), June 1919, May, Sept 1929
  • R.P.A., Mar 1939
  • Town and Country Journal, 19 Mar 1913
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 1944, 14 July 1953
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 14 July 1953, 30 June 1954
  • Marcus Clark & Co. Ltd papers (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Clark, Sir Reginald Marcus (1883–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-sir-reginald-marcus-5667/text9569, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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