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Drysdale, Arthur James (1887–1971)

by Norman Beechey and Richard Ely

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Arthur James Drysdale (1887-1971), financier and pastoralist, was born on 23 April 1887 at Battery Point, Hobart, tenth child of John Drysdale, a mill-owner and storekeeper at Dover, Port Esperance, and his wife Jane, née Inches. Influenced by the Open Brethren, John was strongly religious. As a boy, Arthur showed uncommon determination when his right arm and shoulder were crippled by poliomyelitis: persistent manipulation exercise restored their use. As a young man at Dover, he began what became a successful pattern of entrepreneurial activity, borrowing, buying, improving, selling; he also aimed at eliminating the middleman. His first commercial venture was to buy calves, fatten them and sell them for a profit. He soon learned butchering and travelled the district with a 'cutting cart'. After disposing of this concern, he bought and built up a run-down butcher's shop at Dover which he again sold advantageously. On 26 April 1910 at Holy Trinity Church, Hobart, he married Charlotte Rebecca Lewis (d.1969) with Anglican rites; they had no children.

In 1919 Drysdale launched himself upon the Hobart business world. His butchers' shops in the city were eventually supplied from his own farms. Diversifying, he established meatworks and processed smallgoods to supply his retail outlets. At various times he owned Belgrove, Mount Vernon, Kelvin Grove, Meadowbank and some half-dozen other pastoral properties, and applied the buy, improve and sell principle to them. Obtaining the agency for Ford motorcars in 1928, he sold out at a profit five years later. In 1937 he embarked on the first of several large ventures in the hospitality industry by building the lavishly appointed Wrest Point Hotel which was completed in 1939. Wartime seemed a distinctly bad time to open, but good management helped the hotel to prosper, aided by the patronage of American servicemen. Drysdale sold out for a profit in 1947. Five years later he bought the historic Hadley's Hotel, and began extensive renovations.

His most ambitious venture arose in the wake of the transfer of George Adams's Tattersall's lotteries from Tasmania to Victoria in 1954. Following lengthy negotiation with the Cosgrove government, Drysdale became sole licensee and proprietor of Tasmanian Lotteries. Popular on the mainland and in New Zealand, in 1955-56 the lottery and sweepstakes grossed about £3,750,000. The government received almost 30 per cent; Drysdale received 10 per cent, from which he paid salaries and expenses; the balance provided his profit. Ticket sales rapidly declined from 1958 and he surrendered the licence in 1961. Known to close associates as 'A.J.', he was often called 'Tasmania's self-made millionaire', the 'Lottery Czar' and 'the man with the Midas touch'. From the late 1950s he was considerably assisted in business by his natural daughter Nora (b.1919). A member of the Hobart Racing Club and a Freemason, he was an affable but private man. Drysdale died on 21 May 1971 in Hobart and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery; he was survived by his daughter to whom he left most of his Tasmanian estate, sworn for probate at $754,513.

Select Bibliography

  • Journals and Parliamentary Papers (Tasmania), 1962, vol 167, for Auditor General's Report (28), p 16, and Budget Speech and Financial Statement (21), p 4
  • Rydge's Business Journal, 1 May 1956
  • Saturday Evening Mercury (Hobart), 13 Nov 1954, 1 Feb 1975
  • Mercury (Hobart), 12 Nov 1973
  • General Law Deeds, vol 20/6877, vol 23/2796 (Lands Titles Office, Hobart)
  • private information.

Citation details

Norman Beechey and Richard Ely, 'Drysdale, Arthur James (1887–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/drysdale-arthur-james-10055/text17735, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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