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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sinnamon, Sir Hercules Vincent (1899–1994)

by James Cleary

This article was published online in 2020

Sir Hercules Vincent Sinnamon (1899–1994), business executive, philanthropist, and landowner, was born on 13 November 1899 at Seventeen Mile Rocks, Brisbane, fifth of nine children of Irish-born James Sinnamon, farmer, and his Victorian-born wife Jane Eliza, née Jackson. The Sinnamons were descendants of Huguenots who fled from Saint-Armand-les-Eaux, France, to (Northern) Ireland. James was one of ten (later eleven) children who in 1862 migrated to Queensland with their parents, James and Margaret Sinnamon. They were seeking economic opportunities and, as devout Methodists, an escape from sectarian conflict.

James Sinnamon senior bought land in 1865 on the southern bank of the Brisbane River at Seventeen Mile Rocks. He built the homestead Beechwood, and he and his sons developed prosperous farms, embracing dairying, small cropping, and horse-breeding. James junior purchased land adjacent to his holding in 1880 and erected the house Glen Ross. Herc had an idyllic rural childhood.

Educated at Seventeen Mile Rocks (1905–12) and Taringa (1912–13) State schools, in 1914 Sinnamon joined the staff of the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd and attended Stott & Hoare’s Business College part time. He had a deep love of music and in the Trinity College of Music, London, exams for 1917 shared first place among local candidates in the advanced junior division. Although he did not embark on a musical career, he would be a keen concert-goer throughout his life. Studying at night, in 1929 he qualified as an associate of the Federal Institute (later Australian Society) of Accountants and of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries of Joint Stock Companies and Other Public Bodies (fellow, 1946). He would remain with National Mutual until he retired as a senior executive in 1964.

Shrewd advice from his uncle George Sinnamon and guidance from specialists within his firm assisted Sinnamon to become a skilled investor. In 1944 he bought Glen Ross farm from his father’s estate and in 1949 added his uncle Benjamin Sinnamon’s adjoining property, with its Avondale homestead; the combined holding comprised 430 acres (174 ha). He also owned land in the Mary Valley. Share farmers worked the properties. By 1993 his assets, including the farms, would be valued at $18 million.

Sinnamon was a bachelor who enjoyed gentlemen’s clubs in the city as well as country pleasures, such as horse-riding. He was a committed member of his local Methodist (later Uniting) church. Charities he supported included the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. In 1980 he became a founder benefactor of the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation, with a donation of $100,000; he saw it as a worthy cause, although admitting he `wouldn’t know a Dobell from a tram bell’ (Courier-Mail 1980, 10). A Freemason from 1990, he provided land from his farm for the Taringa lodge to erect a temple in memory of his parents.

After his retirement, Sinnamon devoted his energies to maintaining the Seventeen Mile Rocks properties. As he recounted: ‘I bought the farms to preserve the pattern of family ownership … and to retain some of the district’s original buildings in the form of a historical village on the original farm’ (Sinnamon 1980, 4). In the early 1960s he had resisted a plan by the Brisbane City Council to resume a strip of land through his property for a highway leading to a bridge abutting his river frontage. This infrastructure was intended to support a major development of residential and commercial properties by Hooker Rex Pty Ltd. Sinnamon collaborated with William Prentice, whose land on the river’s northern bank the council also sought to resume. In Prentice v. Brisbane City Council (1966) the Supreme Court of Queensland ruled that the council did not have the power to compulsorily acquire land to assist private development. The road and bridge were relocated upstream and opened in 1964. Sinnamon was not opposed to all development, however, later selling 160 acres (65 ha) to A. V. Jennings Industries (Australia) Ltd for housing.

Consistent with the views of his father, who had been a special constable in the Brisbane general strike of 1912, Sinnamon had conservative political sympathies. He was on friendly terms with Premier (Sir) Joh Bjelke-Petersen, whom he described as ‘a man of the land like me’ (Allen 1985, 5). In 1980 Sinnamon was appointed OBE for his philanthropy. He then asked B. T. Ball, the general manager of Queensland Trustees Ltd, to nominate him for a knighthood, on Ball’s understanding that he would leave his land at Seventeen Mile Rocks to the public in perpetuity as a model dairy to educate city children. Although duly knighted in 1985, he bequeathed to the State only four hectares, later reduced to one, containing the historic buildings; the government refused the gift.

As Sinnamon’s mental and physical health declined he became increasingly dependent on his brother Ivan and a close friend, Norman Henry, who acted as a primary carer. He transferred his land to them and, at his request, they disposed of the bulk of his assets in 1993. All the farmland was sold, including the heritage site. Sir Hercules had been admitted to the Bethesda Nursing Home, Corinda, the previous year. He died there on 27 February 1994 and was buried in Sherwood cemetery.

Between 1963 and 1993 Sinnamon had executed more than fifteen wills or codicils, varying his bequests to individuals as well as changing his endowments for public purposes. His notion of an educational working farm was doomed by his vacillation over the final disposition of his assets; proximity to the city, which caused land prices to rise steeply; government reluctance to embrace the project; and the indifference of members of his family to heritage values. Community action later ensured that the historic and heritage-listed buildings he sought to preserve—the restored houses Beechwood, Glen Ross, and Avondale (with outbuildings), and his old schoolhouse and church (which he had moved onto his land for the purpose)—survived as components of the Sinnamon Farm heritage precinct, at several locations along Seventeen Mile Rocks Road, Sinnamon Park.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Allen, Ric. ‘A Grand Vision for the People.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 13 January 1985, 5
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘There’s a Beauty in the Bush.’ 29 August 1980, 10
  • Gordon, Meg. ‘Sinnamon Farm Heritage Precinct–A Brief History.’ Centenary Suburbs Historical Society. Accessed 13 August 2019. https://cshsoc.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/sinnamon-farm-heritage-precinct-summary.pdf. Copy held on ADB file
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID780962, Ecclesiastical (Will) File
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID973135, Ecclesiastical (Will) File
  • Sinnamon, H. V. The Gentleman Farmer’s Paradise: A Story of Pioneering Last Century in Jindalee, Other Centenary Suburbs, 17 Mile Rocks and Oxley by Several Families Including the Sinnamon. Seventeen Mile Rocks, Qld: The author, 1980
  • Sinnamon, Drynan, Taylor & Henry v. Proe [1996] Queensland Supreme Court 164 (4 September 1996). http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/qld/QSC/1996/164.html
  • Todd, Alison. ‘History of the Sinnamon Family Pioneers of the Oxley District.’ Unpublished typescript, 1973. Queensland Museum Library

Additional Resources

Citation details

James Cleary, 'Sinnamon, Sir Hercules Vincent (1899–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sinnamon-sir-hercules-vincent-27842/text35588, published online 2020, accessed online 2 October 2020.

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