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Field, Thomas Alfred (1874–1944)

by J. S. Sears

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

This is a shared entry with Herbert Field

Thomas Alfred Field (1874-1944) and Herbert Field (1878-1955), meat exporters and graziers, were born on 9 May 1874 and 12 August 1878 at Erith, Kent, England, eldest and second of six children of Thomas Alfred Field, butcher, and his wife Eliza Jemima, née Jaques. In 1885 the family emigrated to Sydney. Young Tom left school to work in his father's growing retail and wholesale butchering business which he and his brothers Herbert and Sydney inherited in 1900. Under the general direction of Tom, they began to acquire grazing properties and to channel resources into the firm's wholesale and export businesses. At St James's Catholic Church, Forest Lodge, on 26 June 1900 Tom married Leontine Mildred Clark. On 9 May 1906 at St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, Sydney, Herbert married Nellie Pointing, an attractive, 20-year-old concert pianist and quite a different character from her husband.

During World War I the Field brothers controlled about one-third of Sydney's wholesale meat business through their own company and through their interests in James Elliot & Co. Ltd and the Francis Meat Co. Ltd. In 1917 Tom was criticized by the Necessary Commodities Commission for alleged monopoly trading. Later that year, as chairman of the Wholesale Meat Trade Committee, he dealt successfully with widespread strike and industrial action. In 1923 the brothers established T. A. Field Ltd, frozen meat exporters, with listed assets of £1,100,000; Tom was chairman, and Herbert and Sydney directors.

By 1931 T. A. Field Ltd had grown into a meat and pastoral empire, with headquarters in Thomas Street, Sydney, and interests extending throughout eastern Australia. Three years later, however, the brothers divided the assets and formed their own pastoral companies. Tom retained a half-interest in T. A. Field Ltd and received stations valued at £810,000, among them Belalie, Warrana, Bimble, Burrawang and Congi. His private business interests included the 200,000-acre (80,938 ha) Willandra station and its famous merino stud (purchased in 1912 with the Vickery family), and, from 1930, Lanyon (on the Murrumbidgee near Canberra) which he developed as the family's country home and rural showpiece. Field's wool clips were among the world's largest combined offerings under one ownership.

Hard working and confident, he was solidly built and had a forthright gaze. With a cigar in hand, he displayed success, and was respected by his employees. He was also a thinker, with a good memory and firm ideas about the industry. In a company memo he wrote that 'the key to successful business is careful finance'. Field's frequent rounds of his properties kept him away from his family for many weeks. He was one of the first pastoralists to own his own aeroplane.

In spite of his position in the meat trade, Field and his second wife Jessie Tennant rarely went out socially. In 1933 he suffered a severe heart attack. Next year he visited Europe. On his return he took little part in the business. Survived by his wife and their two sons and three daughters, Tom died of heart disease on 29 January 1944 at Warrawee and was cremated with Anglican rites. Although his assets were sworn for probate at £354,641, he had shrewdly reduced his dutiable estate to £8330. Lanyon was resumed by the Federal government in 1974 after protracted litigation in the High Court of Australia.

Herbert also played an important role in the Field business. Following the company split, he received over 250,000 acres (101,172 ha), including Giro, Merrowie, Red Hill and Widgiewa stations. He remained a director of T. A. Field Ltd with a quarter-interest until he disposed of all his shares in 1938. His own company moved into the sheep and wool trade, with a head office in George Street, Sydney. Merrowie, near Hillston, became a prominent merino stud and Red Hill, near Tumut, was best known for its Herefords. Herbert ran his properties very much as a business investment. A serious man who discouraged waste, he asserted that 'a set of brains in a sheep is worth a threepence'. He meticulously checked the bookwork and took a pragmatic approach to problems, generally seeing issues in black and white. Stocky in build, with fine, thinning hair, he had a stern, unsmiling demeanour.

Herbert's private life was more extravagant. In 1915 he bought a large house at Ashfield Park and in 1927 moved his family to another grand house, at Bellevue Hill, which he also named The Bunyas. He lavished fine gifts upon his wife and children. Nellie took a great interest in racing; her horse, Blue Legend, won the Australian Jockey Club's Doncaster (1946 and 1947) and Epsom (1946) handicaps. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, Herbert died on 4 October 1955 at Bellevue Hill and was buried in Waverley cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £43,783.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Jarratt, T. A. Field—a History (Syd, 1991)
  • Butcher, 30 Nov 1917
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Mar 1922, 16 Feb 1944, 16 May 1953, 15 Oct 1955, 18 May 1962, July 1975
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Sept, 5 Oct 1955
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 Oct 1955
  • deceased estates of T. A. Field, A 73739 no 20/3428 and H. Field, B 128752 no 20/6185 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. S. Sears, 'Field, Thomas Alfred (1874–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/field-thomas-alfred-10176/text17979, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 August 2014.

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

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