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Peck, John Murray (1830–1903)

by K. A. Austin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

John Murray Peck (1830-1903), coachline proprietor and auctioneer, was born on 26 January 1830 at Lebanon, New Hampshire, United States of America, third son of John Waters Peck and his wife Frances (Fanny), née Huntington. His ancestors had arrived at Boston in 1637 from England and helped to found New Haven, Connecticut. Brought up on his parents' farm, Peck joined Wells, Fargo & Co. In June 1853 he arrived at Melbourne in the Eagle and with Freeman Cobb, James Swanton, and John B. Lamber soon founded a carrying company known as Cobb & Co., which was converted in December 1853 to coaching. Their first coach ran to Forest Creek (Castlemaine) and Bendigo on 30 January 1854. Peck and Swanton, expert drivers and horse-breakers, managed the road and acted as relief drivers.

The original Cobb & Co. partnership was dissolved in May 1856 and Peck returned to America, visiting Chicago and his home in Lebanon. In 1858 he returned to Victoria with eight new Concord coaches and a supply of harness. Four of these coaches could carry forty passengers each and had been built to Peck's design. To operate them on Cobb & Co.'s Bendigo line a syndicate known as the Victorian Stage Co. was formed in August 1858 with thirteen members including Peck. It was dissolved in 1860 and Peck managed the Bendigo route for new owners. In 1861 he lost most of his capital when an outbreak of scab ruined his speculation in sheep.

In 1862 Peck joined Dal Campbell & Co., stock and station agents, and soon became the leading auctioneer of fat cattle in Victoria. His voice could be heard for half a mile (.8 km) and as a good judge of stock he always drafted and classed the cattle he was to sell. His humour, stories and rapid sales made him popular with a wide clientele. His own firm was long Victorian agent for James Tyson and Sidney Kidman. He left Dal Campbell & Co. in 1870 and formed a partnership with William Hudson and T. R. Raynor; it was dissolved in 1887 when his son Harry Huntington joined him in forming J. M. Peck & Son. Another son R. O. (Dick) later joined the firm which in 1922 was acquired by the Australian Mercantile, Land and Finance Co. Ltd.

Tall and powerful, Peck had a great zest for life, a keen sense of duty and the flamboyance of the mid-century Yankee businessman. He was first president of the Associated Stock and Station Agents in 1888, a councillor of the Agricultural Society, a justice of the peace, a councillor of the Borough of Essendon and Flemington serving as mayor in 1872, and a vice-president of the Essendon Football Club, a member of the Australian Club and the Victoria Racing Club. Known as 'Honest John', he was proud of his home and garden. Though a Wesleyan, he was fond of dancing and supported the Essendon Quadrille Club. He lived at Mascoma, Ascot Vale, and later at Lebanon, Pascoe Vale, where he died on 19 November 1903. He was buried in the Broadmeadows cemetery, survived by his wife Louisa Ellen, née Roberts, whom he had married in 1859 at Geelong, and by their eight children. Streets in Essendon North and Ascot Vale are named after him.

His son, Harry Huntington, became a noted stock auctioneer and was author of Memoirs of a Stockman (Melbourne, 1942).

Select Bibliography

  • K. A. Austin, The Lights of Cobb and Co. (Adel, 1967)
  • W. A. Blair, A Pioneer of Coaching Days (held by Mrs L. H. Earp)
  • J. M. Peck papers (Cobb & Co. Transport Museum, Toowoomba, Queensland)
  • manuscript catalogue under L. H. Earp (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. A. Austin, 'Peck, John Murray (1830–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/peck-john-murray-4385/text7139, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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