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Penfold Hyland, Gladys (1886–1974)

by Martha Rutledge

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

Gladys Penfold Hyland (1886-1974), businesswoman and collector of antiques, was born on 17 March 1886 at Albury, New South Wales, elder daughter of Australian-born parents George Henry Lethbridge, sheriff's officer, and his second wife Ada Margaret, née Dawson. Gladys had five half-brothers and was a great-granddaughter of Governor King. She lived with her family in Sydney after 1896, except when she briefly attended a private school in Melbourne. At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 10 August 1921 she married Frank Astor Penfold Hyland (1873-1948), governing director (from 1913) of Penfolds Wines Ltd; their only child was born in 1922. A grandson of Christopher Penfold, Frank had opened a branch of Penfolds in Pitt Street in 1901. He belonged to the Australian Club and was founding president (1918) of the Federal Viticultural Council of Australia. On their frequent trips abroad he did much to publicize Australian wines.

Frank had begun collecting old silver, paintings and antiques while he did his own travelling to promote Penfolds wines. It was a pastime that Gladys took to with enthusiasm. In December 1923 she bought Toft Monks, an ornate, brick, Edwardian mansion at Elizabeth Bay. Over the years the house was furnished with Queen Anne and Georgian pieces, rare eighteenth-century porcelain figurines (mainly from the Bow and Chelsea factories), portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, George Romney and Nicolaes Maes, landscapes by George Morland, J. M. W. Turner, Salomon van Ruysdael and Richard Wilson, and other paintings. The pantry was crammed with valuable silver. The Penfold Hylands found many of their objets d'art overseas and bought paintings from Thos Agnew & Sons Ltd in London. Local dealers, including Stanley Lipscombe, also enjoyed their custom.

Gladys was a domineering woman who kept tight hold of the family purse-strings. Stocky in build, she generally dressed in beautifully tailored suits, often with initialled brass buttons. She belonged (from 1927) to the Macquarie Club. In the 1930s she helped to raise funds for charities, but usually managed to avoid mention in the social pages of the newspapers. An executive-member (from 1937) of the State division of the Australian Red Cross Society, she served during World War II on its divisional council, and on the military convalescent homes committee, and the publicity and public-relations committee. As president (1941-47) of the Red Cross Day committee she raised over £2 million.

Following Frank's death, Gladys inherited his majority shareholding in Penfolds and was chairman (1948-61) of the board. As she was inexperienced in running a company, she relied on his former secretary Grace Longhurst. Mrs Penfold Hyland was a fair-thinking woman—'apart from every now and then'—and a good listener. Impressed by the special sherry she had asked Max Schubert to make for her, she sent him on a mission to Europe in 1950 to buy different varieties of grapes and equipment, and to learn about winemaking. She endorsed the suggestion that the company should increase its production of uniform, high-quality table wines and was Schubert's ally in his efforts to make a top red wine—Grange Hermitage. At her initiative the company built conspicuous white premises at Tempe. In June 1961 Penfolds was registered as a public company, Penfolds Wines Australia Ltd. Gladys was a director until 1963.

In the 1950s Mrs Penfold Hyland 'never travelled without Bevan the butler or Myrtle the maid'. The chauffeur wore a silver-grey uniform to match her Rolls Royce motorcars. In 1964 she gave antique furniture, porcelain, silver (including an Elizabethan silver-gilt salt) and paintings to the National Gallery of South Australia in memory of her husband; she asked that her gifts—valued at £200,000—'should be shown as a group as far as possible'.

Generous to the State branch of the National Trust of Australia, Mrs Penfold Hyland held 'most enjoyable fund-raising exhibitions of the antiquities' at Toft Monks. In 1967, when the trust took over Old Government House, Parramatta, she gave a number of 'interesting and valuable items', including a 1720 long-case grandfather clock. A life-governor (1960-74) of Sydney Hospital, she made annual donations ($39,000 by 1970) towards a fellowship in gastroenterology. In 1967 she donated a Rolls Royce—with only 200 miles (322 km) on its odometer—to an appeal for the Royal Blind Society of New South Wales.

After a number of paintings (including four by Turner) had been stolen (1965), Mrs Penfold Hyland sold Toft Monks in 1966 and moved to a flat at Edgecliff. In 1967 she was appointed C.B.E. Her last years were spent at Chateau Blanc, her farm near Ingleburn. She died there on 11 July 1974 and was buried in the Church of England cemetery, Denham Court. Her daughter survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • O. L. Ziegler, The Penfold Story (Syd, 1975)
  • H. Hooke, Max Schubert, Winemaker (Syd, 1994)
  • Australian Red Cross Society (New South Wales), Annual Report, 1937-50
  • Ormolu, Oct 1979, p 18
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Oct 1933, 18 Dec 1948, 6 July 1963, 2 July 1964, 16 Nov 1965, 22 Mar, 10 June 1967, 23 July, 1 Aug 1974
  • National Gallery of South Australia minutes, 1964
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Penfold Hyland, Gladys (1886–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/penfold-hyland-gladys-11362/text20297, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 October 2018.

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

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