Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Foy, Francis (1856–1918)

by G. P. Walsh

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

This is a shared entry with Mark Foy

Francis Foy (1856?-1918) and Mark Foy (1865-1950), businessmen and sportsmen, were the eldest and third sons of Mark Foy and his first wife Mary, née Macken: Francis was born at Kingstown, near Dublin, and Mark junior on 15 February 1865 at Bendigo, Victoria. Francis reached Melbourne with his mother about 1860. A high-spirited boy, he drove a bullock-team from Bendigo, to Melbourne and back without mishap. At 18 he ran away to sea and returned to Ireland, where he was a counter-hand with Arnott & Co. Ltd, drapers, in Dublin. After three years he came home and, reconciled to his father, became a partner in his drapery shop at Collingwood. In November 1882 his father settled the business on him and brought in William Gibson as his son's partner. On 21 June 1883 at John's Catholic Church, Heidelberg, Francis married Mary Maud Flanagan (d.1900).

The partnership was dissolved in August 1884 and Francis and Mark moved to Sydney where in 1885 they set up shop in Oxford Street under the style of Mark Foy's, in memory of their late father. Francis established a colourful reputation as a buyer in England and on the Continent by a combination of shrewdness and unorthodoxy: he always bought without a book, later accurately recalling hundreds of transactions to his clerk at his London office. Business flourished and a new store near Hyde Park, modelled partly on Bon Marché in Paris, was opened in 1908: its piazza, chandeliers, marble and sumptuous ballroom made it a Sydney institution and one of Australia's foremost fashion stores. Always the innovator, Foy introduced Sydney's first escalator and motor delivery service. In November 1909 Mark Foy's Ltd was registered as a public company with an authorized capital of £600,000.

A popular, flamboyant turf identity, Foy imported many racehorses from Ireland and England and sent mares to stud in France. His Irish sense of humour showed in his equine nomenclature; at his stud, The Monastery, near Parkes, His Reverence stood as chief stallion and he called a foal by Something Irish, The Christian Brother. He raced for pleasure: it was said he gave away all his prize money and winnings, and he delighted in donating cups to racing clubs big and small. Each year he went to the Melbourne Cup meeting where he entertained at champagne luncheons—his horse, Voyou, ran second in the 1899 Melbourne Cup. In ill health, suffering for many years from diabetes, in 1918 he went to Melbourne as usual; he said to a bookmaker that he would bet three to one he would not return to Sydney alive. He won that bet, dying in the Melbourne-Sydney express near Goulburn, New South Wales, on 12 November 1918.

Foy was survived by his second wife Mary Ann, née Clark, whom he had married on 3 September 1912 at St Patrick's, Church Hill, and by four sons and four daughters of his first marriage; three sons saw active service in World War I.

Kind and generous, if a little impetuous, Foy was the subject of numerous stories. A prominent Catholic, he was buried in his French-style chapel vault in South Head cemetery which bears a punning epigraph: 'In Dieu foi aux amis foyer' (For God faith, for my friends hearth). His estate, which included his residence Auteuil, Killara, and a property of the same name in Queensland, was valued for probate at £149,271.

His brother Mark was a keen sportsman. As a young man he won several medals for rifle-shooting in the United States of America. In 1890 he founded the Sydney Flying Squadron to popularize and brighten up sailing on Port Jackson. His efforts resulted in the faster, cheaper, skiff-class 18-footers (unique to Australia), and in making sailing a public spectacle with big prize money and colourful boats which could easily be identified by supporters. When banned from participating in the Anniversary Day Regatta he started a rival one. In 1898 he took his 22-foot Irex to England, but lost all three races on the Medway to the Maid of Kent. On 19 September 1900 at St Mary's Cathedral, Hobart, Tasmania, he married Elizabeth Dominica Tweedie. Also interested in motor racing and boxing, in 1904 he presented a silver cup for a Sydney-Melbourne road race.

In July that year Foy opened the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains as a hydropathic resort, complete with Swiss doctor and spa water from Baden Baden, Germany. With characteristic flair Foy provided a wide range of recreation facilities and amusements with excellent cuisine and made it one of the most fashionable resorts in Australia. Many international celebrities patronized it: Melba and Clara Butt sang in the casino and Bertha Krupp donated one of her grand pianos; in 1908 Tommy Burns trained there for his fight with Jack Johnson, and that year and 1925 it was host to visiting American fleets.

Foy retired from active participation in the retail business in 1908 and travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. Survived by two sons and two daughters, he died on 15 November 1950 after a fall in his garden at Bay View and was buried in the Catholic section of South Head cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £68,981. The family were released by the Equity Court from a direction in his will that he be reburied in an elaborate tomb to cost £32,000 built in an acre of bushland at Medlow Bath.

Select Bibliography

  • Mark Foy's Ltd, The Romance of the House of Foy, 1885-1935 (Syd, 1935)
  • S. W. Davies, Foy's Saga (Perth, 1946)
  • British Australasian, 22 Sept 1898, 2 Feb 1899
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13, 15 Nov 1918, 17 Nov 1950, 30 Oct 1951, 10 Apr 1976
  • Sydney Mail, 20 Nov 1918
  • Freeman's Journal (Syd), 21 Nov 1918
  • Truth (Sydney), 23 Mar 1952
  • Sun (Sydney), 26 Dec 1975
  • Australian (Sydney), 22 Jan 1980
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 24 Jan 1980.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Foy, Francis (1856–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/foy-francis-6231/text10721, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 December 2014.

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

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