Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jones, David (1793–1873)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

David Jones (1793-1873), merchant, was born on 8 March 1793, the son of Thomas Jones, a farmer near Llandeilo, Wales, and his wife Nancy. His parents hoped that he would enter the church but at 15, showing little interest in farming or the ministry, he left home and was apprenticed to a grocer in Carmarthen. At 18 he was offered and accepted the management of a general store in Eglwyswrw, Pembrokeshire, where in 1813 he married Catherine Hughes, daughter of the local pastor. A year later in childbirth she and the baby died. On 10 September 1822 he married Elizabeth Williams (d.1826).

Jones then went to London and at once found work with a retailer in Oxford Street. He made several changes of employment before accepting appointment with the firm of R. N. Nicholls, Wood Street, Cheapside, where he soon rose to be a confidential assistant. In London in 1828 he married Jane Hall, the daughter of John Hall Mander of East Smithfield. The Mander family were zealous Independents and much interested in the work of the London Missionary Society, and through them David Jones made many friends among his fellow Independents. Through William Wemyss, a friend of the Manders, he met Charles Appleton, a Hobart Town businessman who had opened a store in Sydney in 1825 and was visiting London. Jones resigned from Nicholls's firm and entered into partnership with Appleton which included the Australian branches under the style of Appleton & Co.

In October 1834 Jones sailed with his family in the Thomas Harrison for Hobart, whence with plans for expanding business, he travelled overland to Launceston to gauge the needs of the settlers. He arrived in the Medway at Sydney in September 1835. Appleton had left his Sydney business under the control of a partner, Robert Bourne, a former missionary, and when Bourne's partnership expired on 31 December 1835 the firm became Appleton & Jones and the latter embarked on the ambitious plan of establishing in Sydney 'a house on the principles of the respectable wholesale London Firms'. When Appleton arrived a rift developed between him and Jones and the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent in 1838. Both Appleton and Jones published their versions of the quarrel in the press; Appleton was uneasy over what he considered a reckless credit policy pursued by Jones, who claimed in defence that since he had taken over the Sydney business in 1836 the turnover had increased tenfold to £80,000 a year, netting in the colony alone a profit of more than £7000 a year. Jones had certainly instituted a policy of liberal credit, for when the partnership ended the credit figure was over £30,000. Jones moved his business to premises on the corner of George Street and Barrack Lane, where David Jones Ltd still has a branch. To trade with London he formed a mutually protective association with his business friends and fellow Independents, Robert Bourne, Ambrose Foss, G. A. Lloyd and their consulting accountants, Thompson & Giles, with William Wemyss as their chief agent. Jones and his associates regularly secured the whole cargo space of ships bringing out bounty migrants, guaranteeing such profitable backloading as wool or tallow.

Jones survived the depression of the 1840s, business prospered and with his wife he visited England and Wales in 1849. He retired from active management of the business in 1856, taking in partners and leaving in it a capital of £30,000. A few years later the firm failed; faced with bankruptcy, he bought out his partners, returned to manage its affairs and in a few years had fully discharged all obligations to his creditors. He was seriously ill in 1866 but, under the treatment of his son Philip, he made a remarkable recovery. He finally retired in 1868 and died at his home in Lyons Terrace, Liverpool Street, Sydney, on 29 March 1873. His wife died three weeks later, aged 71.

David Jones had a noble and prepossessing presence and a kind and engaging personality; according to his friend Rev. W. Slatyer, 'he suffered from an unsuspicious and charitable judgment in giving others with whom he dealt credit for the integrity with which he himself was activated'. Apart from his family his main interests were business, religion and civic affairs. He had many investments in banks, steamship, insurance, building and other companies; he was a director of the Mutual Fire Insurance Co. formed in 1840, a foundation director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society in 1848, and a trustee and chairman of the Metropolitan and Counties Permanent Investment and Building Society in 1851. He was a deacon of the Congregational Church in Sydney for some thirty-five years, one of the founders and first council members of Camden College and a committee member of the local auxiliaries of the Bible and Religious Tract Societies. He was a generous benefactor to his own and other churches and was one of the Sydney merchants who each gave 1000 guineas to the Crimean war victims' fund. He was a member of the first Sydney City Council in 1842 and of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1856-60.

He had four sons and four daughters by his third marriage. The eldest son David Mander (d.1864) married a cousin, Emily Ann Jones, and he with his brother George took up the 300-sq.-mile (777 km²) property, Boonara, on the Darling Downs. The second son, Philip Sydney (1836-1918), achieved eminence as a physician and was knighted. The youngest son, Edward Lloyd (1844-1894), married Helen Ann, daughter of Richard Jones and succeeded his father in the business. In September 1848 the eldest daughter, Eliza, married Robert, son of Dr Robert Ross.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 18, 22
  • C. Lloyd Jones, ‘The History of David Jones Limited’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 41, part 5, 1955, pp 226-39
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May 1838, 31 Mar 1873
  • A. Jackson, The Days of David Jones (archives of David Jones Ltd, Sydney).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Jones, David (1793–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-david-2279/text2929, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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