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Cox, Sir Edward John Owen (1866–1932)

by Heather Radi

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

Edward John Owen Cox (1866-1932), by Les Reynolds

Edward John Owen Cox (1866-1932), by Les Reynolds

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10046013

Sir Edward John Owen Cox (1866-1932), businessman and politician, was born on 21 January 1866 at Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, Wales, son of George Hugh Augustus Cox, commercial traveller, and his wife Elizabeth, née Owen. Educated at Christ's Hospital, London, he sailed as midshipman to New Zealand about 1880. He was a clerk with the Bank of Australasia, Wanganui, when at Christchurch he married Penelope Ealinor Mary, daughter of Thomas M. H. Johnston, an engineer, on 12 December 1888. Cox later set up as a produce merchant and gained experience in the New Zealand frozen meat trade. He returned to London in 1893 and joined Birt & Co. Ltd, merchants and shippers; in 1898 he came to Sydney as their local chairman, retaining that position until 1929.

Cox reputedly made money in the South African War. At his fine house, St Luke's, Darling Point, he had a good chef, and, though abstemious himself, he was a notable host. He enjoyed practical jokes and the company of women. His formal initiation into public affairs was as president of the New South Wales Justices' Association in 1914. When the Imperial government began chartering shipping in 1915, Cox became chairman of its Australian committee; he reorganized the packing of refrigerated carcasses by having them cut in half and packed one inside the other. A close friend of Billy Hughes, he joined the Commonwealth Shipping Board in 1917 and was appointed deputy controller of overseas shipping on 2 March 1918.

During World War I Cox served on the executive of the New South Wales division of the British Red Cross Society, on the New Zealand Soldiers' Reception Committee, Sydney, and as president of the Rejected Volunteers Association of New South Wales, which in addition to demonstrating its members' willingness to serve, also undertook to build six cottages for war widows. Cox was a vice-president of the Millions Club and in 1920 he was foundation president of the National Roads Association. Appointed K.B.E. in 1918 and K.G.B.E. in 1920, he was known as Sir Owen.

His friendship with Hughes probably prompted Cox's initiative in 1919 in reforming the businessmen's committee which supported the Nationalists; William Brooks had allowed it to become inactive. Cox believed that the party should represent a 'federation of interests', enlisting support from employers' organizations for its financing which he controlled for several years. In 1922 he was appointed to the Legislative Council. He spoke rarely and his attendance fell off as he spent more time overseas. He was Australian agent for the 'Federal' and 'Shires' shipping lines and a local director of the Federal Steam Navigation Co. Ltd of London. He was a director of the Bellambi Coal Co. Ltd and of the British Australian Cotton Association Ltd, formed after the war in Queensland under the chairmanship of Sir Hugh Denison and later (Sir) Walter Massy Greene.

In 1927 Cox took leave of absence from the council and spent more time overseas; he resigned his seat in 1930. He died at Monte Carlo on 30 July 1932, leaving his estate, except for provision for his wife, to Gwladys Bonsor of the same address as himself. He was survived by his wife and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Feb 1918, 1 Jan 1930, 1 Aug 1932
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 7 Oct 1922
  • Punch (Melbourne), 22 Jan 1925
  • Sun (Sydney), 1 Aug 1932
  • Holman papers, uncat MS 111 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Cox, Sir Edward John Owen (1866–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cox-sir-edward-john-owen-5798/text9839, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 November 2018.

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

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