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Gordon, Sir Thomas Stewart (1882–1949)

by Peter Spearritt and Katherine Vasey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Sir Thomas Stewart Gordon (1882-1949) businessman, was born on 26 April 1882 at Ardrossan, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, eldest son of William Gordon, farmer, and his wife Alice, née Wicks; he was a nephew of Sir David Gordon. The family moved to Broughton in the Wimmera district of Victoria where Thomas was educated before attending the Commercial College, Adelaide. In 1900 he was employed by George Wills & Co., merchants and shipping agents at Fremantle, Western Australia. In 1902 he joined Birt & Co. Ltd, shippers and merchants, and next year moved to Sydney. He represented that firm in New Zealand in 1908-11, returning to Sydney as shipping manager.

Like many up-and-coming businessmen of his day, Gordon took an interest in politics, serving as an alderman on the Mosman Municipal Council in 1925-28, and was active in the National Party. In September 1928, as chairman of the Oversea Shipping Representatives' Association (of which he was a founder), he denounced the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia's strike. Next year, Gordon succeeded Sir Owen Cox as chairman and managing director of Birt & Co. and in 1929-34 was a council-member of the Australian Oversea Transport Association.

Gordon was also chairman of the Darling Island Stevedoring and Lighterage Co. Ltd, Australian director of the Federal Steam Navigation Co. Ltd of London, the Newstead Wharves & Stevedoring Co. Pty Ltd of Brisbane, and a director of the Royal Exchange of Sydney, Australian General Insurance Co. Ltd, Bellambi Coal Co. Ltd, Cockatoo Docks & Engineering Co. Pty Ltd, Ready Mixed Concrete Ltd and Lapstone Hotel Ltd. He was a council-member of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for Australia, New Zealand and South Sea Islands, and president of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce for Australasia; on a visit to Brussels in 1937 he was presented with the Order of Leopold. He was knighted in 1938.

In 1932 Gordon had been nominated to the Legislative Council to ensure the passage of legislation to reform the Upper House and to protect it against the danger of abolition by a 'revolutionary party' in the Lower House. He did not seek election to the reconstituted council in 1933.

From the outbreak of World War II until 1947, Gordon was a member of the Shipping Control Board and from December 1939 the representative in Australia of the British Ministry of Shipping (War Transport). He became chairman of the Allied Consultative Shipping Council in May 1942. The shipping crisis in 1942 led to the creation of the Department of Supply and Shipping and to Gordon's appointment in October as director of shipping. Responsible directly to the minister, he controlled all shipping in Australian waters, including Australian, British, American, Dutch and Norwegian ships and later Canadian and Swedish. Gordon exercised his powers discreetly and efficiently. By 1944 available tonnage had increased and the volume of essential cargo fell, but these gains were offset by a decline in efficiency on the waterfront. When he resigned as director in October 1945 Prime Minister Ben Chifley praised his public spirit and ability.

Among the many charitable institutions for which he worked, Gordon was chairman of several relief funds for seamen and of the Corps of Commissionaires, New South Wales, president of the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society of New South Wales, a committee-member of the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution and vice-president of the Japan-Australia Society. In his off-duty moments he was a keen golfer and belonged to the Royal Sydney Golf and the Elanora Country clubs.

Ill health forced Gordon to retire from public life in February 1948. He died of cerebral haemorrhage on 5 July 1949 at his Point Piper home and was cremated after a Presbyterian service. He was survived by his wife Victoria, née Fisher, whom he had married in Sydney on 11 September 1909, and by his three daughters. His sizeable estate was valued for probate at £76,856.

Select Bibliography

  • S. J. Butlin, War Economy, 1939-42, vol 1 (Canb, 1955)
  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945, vol 2 (Canb, 1977)
  • United Australian Review, 21 Sept, p 14, 21 Oct 1932, p 16
  • Pastoral Review, 16 July 1938, p 758
  • World (Sydney), 17 Sept 1932
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 22 Sept 1932
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Sept 1928, 13 Apr 1929, 1 Jan 1930, 14 Sept 1932, 12 Nov 1937, 9 June 1938, 19 Feb, 13 Dec 1940, 28 Feb 1946, 17 Mar 1948, 6 July, 28 Sept 1949.

Citation details

Peter Spearritt and Katherine Vasey, 'Gordon, Sir Thomas Stewart (1882–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gordon-sir-thomas-stewart-6432/text11003, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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