Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sleigh, Harold Crofton (1867–1933)

by Diane Langmore

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

Harold Crofton Sleigh (1867-1933), merchant and ship-owner, was born on 19 May 1867 at Westbury, Gloucestershire, England, son of Hamilton Norman Sleigh, maltster, and his wife Anna Elizabeth, née Ward. Educated at Bath Grammar School, he worked briefly as a clerk in the Bristol Joint Stock Bank and then for an auctioneer, before joining the Union Bank of London, where he gained some knowledge of shipping. Illness drove him back to Bristol and after a voyage to the Black Sea, he decided to migrate to Australia for his health.

Arriving in 1888 Sleigh took up work at Orange, New South Wales, and soon after, with a partner, began barging cargo on the Murray and Darling rivers. He later moved to Melbourne where, at St John's Church on 5 June 1895, he married Marion Elizabeth Chapple with Anglican rites. In November he formed a partnership with John McIlwraith as merchants and shipping agents, and opened an office in Flinders Street; they won a contract to supply coal to the Western Australian government. McIlwraith then retired from the partnership. Prompted by another coal contract from the Western Australian government, Sleigh ordered two steamers, the Cape Otway and the Cape Leeuwin, from Glasgow in 1898. Built with passenger accommodation amidships they became carriers of eastern Australians to the western goldfields.

During the South African War Sleigh tried unsuccessfully to establish a trade in army supplies. After visiting Britain and investigating trade prospects in South America he returned to Melbourne where, under contract to the British government, he shipped Australian primary products overseas. In 1905 he obtained a timber concession in Siberia and imported logs which he milled at Geelong until World War I. During that period he was consul for Russia.

In 1913 Sleigh took possession of a cargo of Californian motor spirit for which the consignee was unable to pay. He registered the product as Golden Fleece which took its place beside foreign-owned oil products, Vacuum and Shell. Golden Fleece products were imported in increasing quantities during and after World War I. In 1920 Sleigh imported some kerbside petrol-pumps, then set up twenty filling-stations, in Melbourne and in Sydney and Adelaide where branch offices had been established in 1913 and 1919. In 1929 Sleigh established bulk ocean terminals in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide to handle supplies from overseas refineries. The arrival of the first ocean tanker with Golden Fleece products at St Peter's Terminal occasioned the proclamation of Botany Bay as a port for overseas shipping. During the 1920s Sleigh maintained his own shipping interests; in 1925-27 he filled a government contract for a steamship coastal service for the Northern Territory.

Throughout his business career Sleigh was respected for his singleness of purpose and his honesty. In his dealings with his staff, and with his son, he was stern and exacting, but just. An unassuming man, he took little part in social activity but spent his leisure time with his wife and son. To his great disappointment Sleigh, who had contributed so much to the development of motoring, was unable to drive a car because he had a wooden leg, following an injury and amputation.

Sleigh died of heart disease at his South Yarra home on 24 April 1933 and was buried in Box Hill cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at over £80,000. His wife and his son, (Sir) Hamilton Morton Howard (1896-1979), survived him. Sir Hamilton, who had joined the firm in 1919, later becoming a partner, succeeded his father as chairman and managing director of H. C. Sleigh Ltd which in 1947 became a public company.

Select Bibliography

  • H. C. Sleigh Ltd. The First Sixty Years (Melb, 1959)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May, 24 June 1925, 8 Dec 1926, 14 Feb 1927, 6 Sept 1929, 25 Apr 1933
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 Apr 1933
  • Bulletin, 1 June 1960
  • private information.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Sleigh, Harold Crofton (1867–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sleigh-harold-crofton-8457/text14869, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 November 2014.

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

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