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Hancock, Josias Henry (1875–1945)

by W. Ross Johnston

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

Josias Henry Hancock (1875-1945), timber merchant, was born on 14 October 1875 at Ipswich, Queensland, son of Josias Hancock, timber miller, and his wife Emily, née Traveskas. His Cornish grandfather had been a timber man and his father had opened a mill in Stanley Street, Brisbane, which became Hancock & Gore in 1898 and was converted to a limited company in 1904. After education at Ipswich Grammar School, Josias Henry joined the board, soon became managing director and dominated the firm until his death.

Under his lead the company expanded rapidly, building mills at thirteen rural centres, five points in the Brisbane metropolitan area and at Rosebery and Lismore in New South Wales. A case mill was added to the Ipswich Road mill in Brisbane and a joinery about 1920. A veneering plant installed in 1930-31 had become Australia's largest producer of plywood by 1945. Besides the logging mills of Hancock & Gore, Hancock headed seven subsidiary companies including Brown & Broad Ltd, the Timber Corporation Ltd, Burt's Transport Ltd and Hancock & Gore Homes Ltd. He was also a director of Yarraman Pine Pty Ltd and a member of the Queensland Export Association and the Rural Fires Board.

World War I created a heavy demand for timber but by the late 1920s housebuilding had slumped and the industry was depressed. As chairman of the Timber Merchants' Association, Hancock proposed that the government reduce royalties on timber exports; the idea was accepted and recovery followed. In 1932-33 he participated in the purchase by a consortium of Brisbane timber men of the unprofitable state-owned mills in Brisbane and at Yarraman. He believed it 'undignified' for the government to trade. In 1933-34 he was one of a group seeking government help for the veneer and plywood industry which was experiencing heavy competition; the government created the Plywood and Veneer Board, which Hancock joined. At its peak Hancock & Gore, with over 2000 employees on the payroll, was Queensland's largest employer other than the railways.

Because of the intense competition for diminishing timber resources, Hancock entered into an arrangement with Edward Farrell late in 1944 to purchase a large concession in New Guinea. He acted against the advice of his solicitor, the proposition turned out to be a massive confidence trick with political ramifications, and the reputation of his firm suffered in the subsequent royal commission.

A sociable man, known usually as Harry, Hancock was a deacon of the City Congregational Church, a vice-commodore of the Royal Queensland Yacht Club and a member of numerous societies. Intending to retire after a bad car accident, he died of apoplexy during a visit to Townsville on 24 April 1945 and was buried in South Brisbane cemetery. His estate, valued for probate at £51,521, was left to his wife, Mary Isabella, née Peel, whom he had married on 18 June 1902, and their four sons; their only daughter had predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 1 (Brisb, 1919)
  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • Annual Review of Queensland, 1 (1902) no 1
  • Government Gazette (Queensland, 5 May 1934
  • Australian Timber Journal, May 1945, p 149
  • Royal Society of Queensland, Proceedings, 67 (1955)
  • RHSQJ, 9 (1969-70)
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 26 Apr 1945
  • company records, Queensland Commissioner of Corporate Affairs (Brisbane)
  • private information.

Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Hancock, Josias Henry (1875–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hancock-josias-henry-6546/text11249, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 November 2018.

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

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