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Ricketson, Staniforth (1891–1967)

by Frank Strahan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Staniforth Ricketson (1891-1967), stockbroker, was born on 1 August 1891 at Malvern, Melbourne, fifth child of Victorian-born parents Henry Joseph Ricketson, squatter, and his wife Sophia Henrietta, née Sheppard. His maternal great-grandfather J. B. Were had set an example which would influence Staniforth's career. The boy was given the maiden name of his paternal grandmother Georgina, née Staniforth (d.1882); her widowed husband Henry Ricketson senior married J. B. Were's daughter Edith in 1884, reinforcing the connexion between the two families.

At Prahran North State School, Ricketson received a gold medal as dux (1905) of boys. In 1906 he won Corrigan entrance and government scholarships to Wesley College. Leaving school in 1907, he worked on pastoral stations in Victoria and New South Wales. In 1908 he found a job as a correspondence clerk with the Australian Mercantile Land & Finance Co. Ltd, Melbourne. Next year he accompanied his brother Lancelot to King Island where they ran the Ricketson Bros general store. Staniforth also edited the local newspaper, The King Islander.

In 1910 Ricketson moved to Tasmania where he became a reporter with the North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times. At the invitation of his great-uncle Francis Wellington Were, he returned to Melbourne and joined the staff of J. B. Were & Son on 4 December 1911. Within a year he had charge of the Australian Stock Exchange Intelligence, the firm's periodical which summarized news for clients. He expanded the publication and presented additional features under the heading, 'Talks on 'Change'. On 17 March 1914 he was elected a member of the Stock Exchange of Melbourne and admitted as a partner in J. B. Were & Son.

With the outbreak of World War I, Ricketson and many of his colleagues and relations on the stock exchange immediately volunteered for service. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 17 August and was posted to the 5th Battalion's 'F' Company which was composed of old boys from Victorian public schools. Sailing for the Middle East in October, he took part in the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915. His strength of purpose was readily apparent. When the company's commissioned and non-commissioned officers became casualties that day, he braved heavy fire to rally the men and dig a shelter for a wounded officer. He was commissioned on 27 April and awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. For his subsequent services on the peninsula he was mentioned in dispatches.

W. L. Winter Cooke described how, in June, 'a Turkish bullet ploughed a furrow—right across [Ricketson's] scalp—just missing the bone—but he disregarded it, smiled and carried on'. A shell-blast in August left Ricketson partially deaf in the right ear. Evacuated to England in October suffering from diarrhoea, he was sent home in February 1916 to recuperate. At the Presbyterian Church, Prahran, on 6 April that year he married Mary Gwendolyn Brown; they were to have six children before being divorced in 1945. On 4 May 1916 F. W. Were sold the business to his three partners F. J. Fleming, W. F. Geach and Ricketson. Back in England by September, Ricketson was promoted captain in January 1917. He rejoined the 5th Battalion on the Western Front in November and his A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne on 3 September 1919.

In 1923 Ricketson introduced J. B. Were & Son's Weekly Share Market Letter to clients. An increasingly strong force in the firm, he urged his partners in 1928 to sponsor the raising of capital for the first of the Capel Court group of companies, Were's Investment Trust Ltd (later Australian Foundation Investment Co. Ltd). The success of this venture encouraged the firm to back National Reliance Investment Co. Ltd, which was registered in December 1929.

In 1930, when Prime Minister J. H. Scullin's Labor government struggled to cope with the Depression, some ministers and back-benchers advocated financial policies that alarmed Ricketson. As a young man he had met J. A. Lyons who, by November 1930, was acting Federal treasurer. That month Lyons defied caucus and set about raising a £28 million conversion loan. Ricketson formed and headed a committee to advise Lyons and promote the loan. This cabal, comprising Ricketson, four other businessmen and his friend (Sir) Robert Menzies, became known as 'the Group'.

After the conversion loan had been fully subscribed, Ricketson took a prominent part in moves in Melbourne to form an Australian Citizens' League with the aim of restoring 'political integrity and stability' and creating 'a healthy atmosphere remote from party politics'. As acting honorary secretary of the organizing committee, he advertised 'A Monster Mass Meeting' to be held in the Melbourne Town Hall on 19 February 1931. The meeting was a resounding success, and a council of the league (All for Australia League from March) was elected with Ricketson as honorary treasurer. He and his colleagues in the Group had already begun moves to persuade Lyons to leave the Australian Labor Party. In March Lyons revealed his decision to defect. When the Victorian section of the United Australia Party was formed in May, Ricketson was elected temporary secretary of its central council. Under Lyons's leadership, the U.A.P. won a decisive victory in the Federal elections in December.

In 1935 J. B. Were & Son moved to a new Capel Court building in Collins Street. Additional companies were launched: Capel Court Investment Trust (Australia) Ltd in 1936 and Jason Investment Trust (Australia) Ltd in 1937. Ricketson chaired the newly formed Argus & Australasian Ltd in 1936-39. His 'skill and foresight', especially in building up stocks of newsprint before the price rose, ensured that the business was profitable. He had given evidence in 1936 to the Commonwealth government's royal commission on monetary and banking systems. Among other matters, he explained the operation of the 'outside exchange market'. To demonstrate its benefits, he described how—during the financial crisis in the United States of America—J. B. Were & Son had 'bought for Australian clients some 23 million dollars of Australian [issues of] dollar bonds at about 25 to 40 per cent of their par value, most of these having since recovered to above par'.

In the late 1930s Ricketson directed his firm's successful promotion and underwriting of major companies, including Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd, Felt & Textiles of Australia Ltd and Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia & New Zealand Ltd. On 26 October 1940 he became sole proprietor of J. B. Were & Son, but in December admitted six new partners. He served on the committee of the Stock Exchange of Melbourne in 1942-46. Having forecast in 1943 that World War II would be followed by a period of 'great industrial expansion', in September 1946 he described 'talk of an early economic depression' as 'moonshine'. On 21 October that year at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Caulfield, he married Edna Letitia Holmes, a 35-year-old secretary. His firm marketed a substantial parcel of ordinary shares in Foy & Gibson Ltd and in 1948 issued a special booklet promoting the expansion plans of Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd and its subsidiary, Australian Iron & Steel Ltd.

For a long period in the 1950s Ricketson advocated the severance of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia's 'central bank function from its trading activities'. The establishment of the Reserve Bank of Australia in 1959 has been attributed in part to his influence and persistence. Late in the decade he was closely involved in setting up the short-term money market. In the 1960s he continued to chair a number of companies, including Capel Court Investment Co. (Australia) Ltd, to whose group had been added Lombard Investments (Australia) Ltd, Brenton Investments (Australia) Ltd, Clonmore Investments (Australia) Ltd and Haliburton Investments (Australia) Ltd.

Ricketson was a staunch Anglican and a teetotaller. He demanded that his firm, partners and staff should not engage in share trading on their own account. Many of his associates and subordinates found him overbearing. His sons Anthony, Michael and John joined the firm only to leave it, as did a number of its senior officers. Sir Keith Murdoch had told Ricketson in 1948: 'I have a tremendous admiration for your power of organisation, your courage and your integrity, so it has not disturbed me when I have (very occasionally) felt that your remarks or views have been couched in hard words because your work and great undertakings require intensity of thought and effort'.

A member of the Melbourne Club and the Naval and Military Club, Ricketson also belonged to the Australian and Australasian Pioneers' clubs in Sydney. His recreations were tennis, squash, swimming and, in later life, walking. In the 1950s and 1960s he went with associates and friends on excursions to country retreats, at which they studied and discussed ecological and environmental issues, as well as financial and public affairs. Jack Cato recorded these occasions in photographs and verse. Images of Ricketson reveal a tall, handsome man, generally with an impassive face.

Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, and by the two daughters and three of the four sons of his first marriage, Ricketson died on 6 December 1967 at Kew and was cremated. J. B. Were had died on the same day eighty-two years previously; he, too, was aged 76. When news of Ricketson's death reached the Stock Exchange of Melbourne, members adjourned for two minutes as a mark of respect. His estate, including Toolebewang farm at Launching Place, Upper Yarra Valley, was sworn for probate at $1,994,720, of which $1,153,614 was his interest in J. B. Were & Son. A portrait of Ricketson by Sir John Longstaff is held by the family; another by (Sir) William Dargie is in the firm's possession.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Were & Son, The House of Were, 1839-1954 (Melb, 1954)
  • R. T. Appleyard and C. B. Schedvin (eds), Australian Financiers (Melb, 1988)
  • J. B. Were and Son papers (held by the firm and Melbourne University Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Strahan, 'Ricketson, Staniforth (1891–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ricketson-staniforth-11521/text20551, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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