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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mortlock, John Andrew Tennant (1894–1950)

by Valmai A. Hankel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

This is a shared entry with Dorothy Elizabeth Mortlock

John Andrew Tennant Mortlock (1894-1950), by unknown photographer, 1936

John Andrew Tennant Mortlock (1894-1950), by unknown photographer, 1936

State Library of South Australia, B 43444

John Andrew Tennant Mortlock (1894-1950), benefactor and pastoralist, and Dorothy Elizabeth Mortlock (1906-1979), philanthropist, were husband and wife. He was born on 30 March 1894 at Mintaro, South Australia, second of five sons of South Australian-born parents William Tennant Mortlock, grazier, and his wife Rosina Forsyth, daughter of Andrew Tennant. William Ranson Mortlock was his grandfather. Jack was educated at the Grammar School, Glenelg, the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, and Jesus College, Cambridge. After his father's death in 1913, he returned to South Australia to take control of the family estate, which included Martindale Hall, a Georgian-style house near Mintaro, and stations in the vicinity of Port Augusta and Port Lincoln, as well as property in Western Australia, Victoria and England.

A member (from 1915) of the Adelaide Club, Mortlock drove fast cars, owned racehorses and greyhounds, and enjoyed shooting. He became a successful pastoralist and stud Merino breeder, and chaired the Yudnapinna Pastoral Co. Ltd and Yalluna Pty Ltd. His employees and neighbours spoke of his 'charm' and 'kindly disposition', yet he was essentially a bookish, withdrawn and solitary individual who did not make friends easily.

In 1926 Mortlock donated £2000 to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute, University of Adelaide. In 1936 he and his mother gave a further £25,000 to establish the Ranson Mortlock Trust for research into soil erosion and pasture regeneration. An active member of St Peter's Anglican Church, Mintaro, he was also a keen yachtsman, an amateur film-maker and an orchid exhibitor. By this stage, however, he had developed a serious drinking problem.

Dorothy was born on 5 October 1906 at Clapham, London, daughter of Ernest Robert William Beech, pawnbroker's assistant, and his wife Elizabeth Lillian, née Beauchamp. The family emigrated to Adelaide where she was employed (from 1940) as secretary to Ernest Scarfe, who managed Mortlock's estates and finances. When Scarfe died in 1947, she took over Mortlock's accounts. On 7 December 1948, soon after he was diagnosed with cancer, Mortlock married Dorothy at St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide. He died on 15 March 1950 in North Adelaide and was buried in North Road cemetery. His South Australian estate was sworn for probate at £1,148,124. He left over £73,000 to cultural organizations and charities. The balance, held in trust by his wife, was divided between the Waite institute and the Libraries Board of South Australia. In 1986 the Mortlock Library of South Australiana was established as part of the State Library of South Australia.

Mrs Mortlock had become a committee-member (1961) and vice-president (1979) of the Friends of the S.L.S.A. She gave generously to a host of charities. Shy and reserved, and to some degree a loner like her husband, she was a woman of dignity who held strong opinions, but seemed to lack confidence. She died on 10 August 1979 in Adelaide and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Who's Who: South Australia Centenary, 1936 (Adel, 1936)
  • D. Whitelock (ed), The Mid North of South Australia (Adel, 1977)
  • E. Warburton, The Bowmans of Martindale Hall (Adel, 1979)
  • Greater Than Their Knowing (Adel, 1986)
  • Northern Sportsman (Adelaide), 25 Sept 1924
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Mar 1950, 18 Aug 1979, 5 May 1984
  • Mortlock family papers, PRG 717 (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Valmai A. Hankel, 'Mortlock, John Andrew Tennant (1894–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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