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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Derham, Frederick John Walcott (Jack) (1900–1953)

by Brian Carroll

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Frederick John Walcott (Jack) Derham (1900-1953), businessman, was born on 21 July 1900 at Armadale, Melbourne, second child of Victorian-born parents Frederick John Derham, stockbroker, and his wife Muriel Isabel, née Fosbery. Frederick Thomas Derham was his grandfather. Young Derham attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School where he did not excel scholastically, but rowed in the VIII that won the 'Head of the River' in 1918. Known as John or Jack, from the age of 16 he talked business with his father and much of his later shrewdness came from his mother who invested in the stock market. He began work as a salesman with James Hardie & Co. Pty Ltd, importers and exporters, and in 1921 joined with a friend Robert Corbett to form Corbett Derham & Co., merchants. On 22 March 1922 he married Mary Travers in the chapel of his old school. They bought a fine house at Toorak.

Although Derham's early commercial career was marked by periodic financial crises, he was always bailed out by his prosperous family who had built their fortune largely from Swallow & Ariell Ltd. One of his ventures, Tunafone Wireless Pty Ltd, which manufactured receivers, stimulated his interest in plastics. Bakelite, a hard plastic, was used for wireless knobs, mounting-boards and cases, as well as for electrical fittings and such items as buttons, bangles and ashtrays. Derham launched Victoria's first plastics firm, Australian Moulding Corporation Pty Ltd, in September 1927. One of 'Ma' Dalley's best customers, he excelled in adapting second-hand machinery for use in making plastics. The firm specialized in short runs and rapid response to market opportunities.

During a period of intense competition and takeovers in the industry in the early 1930s, Derham was forced out for a short time, but he was soon called back to help his competitors get their businesses in order. In 1936 he bought out the Dunlop plastics interests, Moulded Products (Australasia) Pty Ltd, and became managing director. It was floated as a public company in 1939. Demand for plastics grew rapidly in World War II when rubber was scarce. Bolstered by Derham's forceful managerial leadership and his firm belief in scientific and technical knowledge, the company tackled wartime problems and provided many innovative solutions, among them insulating telephone and other cables with plastics. Most products were marketed under the brand name Nylex, registered in 1941. After the war Moulded Products (Australasia) Ltd switched rapidly to manufacturing such articles as garden hoses and raincoats.

Derham lived a hectic life, with a fondness not only for work, but also for good food, spirits, wines and cigarettes—smoking sixty a day. He made few adjustments following a series of heart attacks, the last of which proved fatal. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on 12 May 1953 at his Toorak home and was cremated. In 1967 the firm was renamed Nylex Corporation Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Hewat, The Plastics Revolution (Melb, 1983)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 May 1953
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 May 1953
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 May 1953
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 14 May 1953.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Carroll, 'Derham, Frederick John Walcott (Jack) (1900–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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