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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dixson, Hugh (1810–1880)

by G. D. Richardson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Hugh Dixson (1810-1880), tobacco manufacturer, was born on 5 June 1810 in Edinburgh, the second son of Hugh Dixson, baker, and his wife Mary, née Scott. He was educated at Edinburgh High School, served an apprenticeship with a tobacconist and at 19 began his own business as a manufacturer and retailer of tobacco. On 11 April 1837 he married Helen, daughter of Robert Craig, a shawl manufacturer of Edinburgh. Deterred by high excise duties in Scotland and reputedly encouraged by John Dunmore Lang and by a relation who returned from Australia in 1838 Dixson decided to migrate. He arrived in Sydney with his wife and child in the Glenswilly on 29 October 1839. Immediately he opened a tobacco shop in George Street and sent home for 400 gross of pipes. This venture founded one of the largest enterprises of its kind in Australia, the Dixson Tobacco Co. Ltd.

Dixson invested in land, sugar and shipping, but without success. In 1860 he opened a store at Twofold Bay hoping to profit from the gold diggers at Kiandra, but the diggings declined and the store with them. He re-established his business in Sydney in 1862 and in the next fifteen years became the leading tobacco manufacturer in the colony, gradually expanding his activities into larger premises, first in York Street and in 1875 in Castlereagh Street. He took a leading part in having the tariff on imported leaf reduced and he tried to foster the local tobacco-growing industry. His name appears on various public petitions, for example, in support of better provision for education and a better water supply, but mostly he devoted himself to his business, to improving the manufacture of tobacco and to varying his products to suit changing demands. He was a prominent Baptist and was respected as a good employer and for his honesty and industry. He brought a number of his relations to Sydney and helped to establish them there.

Dixon died in Sydney on 3 November 1880, and his wife on 5 February 1894. Of their ten children, five died in infancy. The eldest surviving son, (Sir) Hugh, and the second son, Robert, were taken into partnership with their father in 1864 when the firm became Dixson & Sons. Hugh became head of the firm on his father's death while Robert, father of Sir Hugh (Dixson) Denison and member of the South Australian House of Assembly in 1881-84, was the head of the Adelaide branch of the business. Two other sons, Craig and Thomas, became prominent medical practitioners. His daughter Isabella married Rev. F. Hibberd, a leading Baptist minister.

Select Bibliography

  • biographical file (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. D. Richardson, 'Dixson, Hugh (1810–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 13 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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