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Gotch, John Speechly (1829–1901)

by Wallace Kirsop

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

John Speechly Gotch (1829-1901), businessman, was born on 4 December 1829 at Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, son of John Gotch (1791-1869), farmer, and his second wife, née Lefevre (according to one report, Mary Ann Fever). For some months in 1843 he attended school at Tollington Park, London. By February 1844 he was apprenticed to John Meadows, chemist and druggist, of Market Harborough near Leicester. After a five-year apprenticeship and six months as an assistant, Gotch migrated to America. In September 1849 he left Liverpool in the Shenandoah for Philadelphia where he was employed by a dentist without pay for six months; later he became assistant to a dentist in New York.

In February 1853 Gotch sailed for Australia in the Baltimore clipper Peytona but was wrecked off Mauritius. There he practised dentistry until he left Port Louis in the Emma Colvin and reached Melbourne on 24 December. When his gold digging in the Castlemaine district proved fruitless he returned to Melbourne in 1854 and sold newspapers for an elderly Scotsman, Alexander Gordon, who in December 1853 had leased a stall in the western market and become advertising agent for the Argus. They soon became partners as Gordon & Gotch. They recognized the opportunities in the colony's rapid growth and by 1859, when Gordon sold his interest to Gotch and returned to Scotland, the firm was pre-eminent in Melbourne as news and advertising agents and as distributors of newspapers and periodicals from Britain. Gotch introduced his brother William into the business in 1860 and his brother-in-law Alfred Jones in 1861. A branch was opened in Sydney that year, another in London in 1867 and a Brisbane house in 1875, each with a partnership in which Gotch held at least a half share and was directly involved in their management: he even went to London in 1874 to tackle a financial crisis created by a defaulting clerk. The branches were not uniform in their activities which extended from the export and distribution of newspapers and magazines through printing and publishing such works as the Australian Handbook in 1870-1906 to advertising, a press telegraph service and the import of stationery and printing supplies including machinery. Later the London branch engaged in general exports and the Australian offices took over agencies for importing such goods as pianos and sewing machines.

The success of these operations led to fragmentation of the original firm and to the end of Gotch's exclusive ownership of the Melbourne house. In 1885 Gordon & Gotch Ltd came into being, with Gotch holding 165 of the 300 shares of £100 each as well as being chairman of directors and president. In 1897 when the company became a proprietary he held 205 shares; the firm did not expand its share capital till 1907. He disposed of his interests in the London and Sydney branches in 1890-91 and steered the company through the depression of the early 1890s, taking on himself all the losses resulting from the failure of the New Oriental Bank in 1892. After branches were opened in Perth in 1894 and Wellington in 1899 he became less active in business.

Gotch had acquired pastoral interests, mainly in the Western District, but his name remains almost exclusively associated with his firm. For years he was president of the Authorised News Agents' Association of Victoria but, apart from this and his links with the East Melbourne Congregational Church and such charities as the Austin Hospital, the Collingwood Creche and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, he does not appear to have been active in public affairs.

On 17 September 1856 Gotch married Elizabeth Miller Jones of Bedford; of their nine children four died in infancy and a fifth predeceased her father. He died on 23 September 1901 at his home in East Melbourne and was buried in the Anglican section of the Melbourne general cemetery. He was survived by his wife who died in 1914 and by two sons and two daughters. The sons, John Gordon and Edward Speechly, and a son-in-law, H. Courtney Dix, were long associated with the firm.

Select Bibliography

  • A Brief Description of Fifty Years' Progress in the History of Gordon and Gotch (Brisb, 1903)
  • R. F. Bell, Gordon & Gotch London: The Story of the G & G Century, 1853-1953 (Lond, 1953)
  • Gordon & Gotch (Australasia) Ltd, Centenary 1853-1953 (Melb, 1953)
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 Sept 1901, 18 Feb 1914
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25, 26 Sept 1901
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 28 Sept, 5 Oct 1901
  • Defunct Trading companies, Gordon & Gotch Ltd papers (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • family and business reminiscences (Gordon & Gotch (Australasia) Ltd Archives, Melbourne).

Citation details

Wallace Kirsop, 'Gotch, John Speechly (1829–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gotch-john-speechly-3644/text5677, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 November 2018.

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

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