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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sanderson, Sir John (1868–1945)

by P. A. Pemberton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Sir John Sanderson (1868-1945), businessman and grazier, was born on 26 December 1868 at Brie Brie station, Glenthompson, near Hamilton, Victoria, third surviving son of John Sanderson and his wife Agnes, née Roberts. Archibald Sanderson was a brother. Their father established John Sanderson & Co., Melbourne, an agency of Sanderson & Murray, wool merchants of Galashiels, Scotland. In 1870 the family returned to England where Sanderson senior became a partner in Sanderson & Murray's London branch. John was educated at Harrow, and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1890), and followed his brothers William (1864-1900) and Leslie (1867-1914) into the family business.

In 1893 he returned to Melbourne to join John Sanderson & Co., wool merchants, stock and station agents, commission and shipping agents. The firm was also a partner in a syndicate which handled the shipping of silver bullion from Broken Hill, New South Wales, to Britain from 1892. Sanderson represented William Knox D'Arcy on the board of the Mt Morgan Gold Mining Co. and was a director of Equity Trustees, Executors & Agency Co. and the Western Queensland Pastoral Co. He was a member (1918-20) of the Repatriation Commission. On 20 August 1908, at the parish church, Bickley, Kent, he had married Mary Stratford Hunt.

In 1920 Sanderson became senior partner in Sanderson Murray & Elder, London, import and export agents which now handled a major portion of the Australian woolclip. As chairman from 1934 he made major administrative reforms within the company. Sanderson visited Australia frequently, maintaining extensive social and business contacts. A leading figure in Anglo-Australian pastoral, financial and shipping circles, from 1921 he was the Australian representative on the advisory council, British Board of Trade. He undertook 'valuable work of a diplomatic nature' for the Australian government during the Imperial conferences of 1923 and 1926 and in tariff negotiations. In 1931, 'as an experienced observer thoroughly competent to advise on all the different branches of the business', he wrote a major report for Australian Mercantile Land & Finance Co. on the effects of the Depression on rural Australia.

Conservative in politics, he telegraphed (Sir) John Latham on the 'brilliant' United Australia Party victory in December 1931. In the 1930s he and Lady Sanderson were among the group of close friends surrounding the Australian high commissioner, S. M. (Viscount) Bruce. Sanderson was appointed K.B.E. in 1937. A member (1910-20) of the Melbourne Round Table, the Universal Service League, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, Sanderson had a great interest in the role and future of the British Empire: 'Sometimes I think that it alone is worth preserving in this world of shattered ideals'. He was a member of the Melbourne (president 1910), Australian and Union clubs, as well as the Oriental and the City of London. In 1920 he donated £1000 to the University of Melbourne's building fund.

Sanderson was a director of the Australian Agricultural Co. (1920-40), the National Bank of Australasia (1924-44, chairman 1935), the British and Foreign Marine Insurance Co., the Sulphide Corporation Ltd (vice-chairman 1938) and A.M.L.F. (1926-44) and debenture-stockholder trustee (1925-38) of Paterson, Laing & Bruce. He retired from most of his directorates in 1944, and died on 5 January 1945 at Wokingham, Berkshire; he was cremated. Lady Sanderson and a son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Bailey, A Hundred Years of Pastoral Banking (Oxford, 1966)
  • A. Stirling, Lord Bruce (Melb, 1974)
  • L. Foster, High Hopes (Melb, 1986)
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Mar 1892, 15 Oct 1900, 16 Sept 1903, 16 Apr 1919, 16 Jan 1945
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 May 1937, 4 Jan 1945
  • Times (London), 4 Jan 1945
  • Brookes papers (National Library of Australia)
  • John Latham papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Australian Agricultural Co papers (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

P. A. Pemberton, 'Sanderson, Sir John (1868–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 4 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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