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Snow, Sir Sydney (1887–1958)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Sir Sydney Snow (1887-1958), retailer, was born on 17 December 1887 at Ballarat, Victoria, third child of Melbourne-born John Snow, draper, and his English wife Emily Lark, née Piper. Leaving Ballarat College, he worked in his father's drapery emporium, John Snow & Co. In 1912 he moved to Sydney; with his father and W. V. Manton, he established Sydney Snow Ltd, a retail softgoods company, which opened a store on the corner of Pitt and Liverpool streets, diagonally opposite Anthony Hordern's. He returned to Ballarat to marry Ruby Dent Davies at the Lydiard Street Methodist Church on 22 April 1913.

Developing his commercial and business interests, in the 1920s Snow became a director of Yellow Cabs of Australia Ltd and Sun Newspapers Ltd; in 1929-31 he was deputy chairman of Associated Newspapers Ltd which had taken over the Sun. With the onset of the Depression he helped to found the All for Australia League and led negotiations for its merger with the National Party: in 1932 he was elected deputy president of the new United Australia Party. He castigated the dismissed premier J. T. Lang as 'this chief disciple of dishonour and default', and claimed that the U.A.P. offered 'personal security for life and savings' in contrast to the 'sovietised savagery' and 'ruined commerce and industry' of Lang. Snow pursued improved relations with the Country Party and campaigned for Joseph Lyons in the 1934 Federal election. Chairman of the party's executive and council until he resigned on medical grounds in November 1942, Snow was appointed K.B.E. in 1936.

By then Snow was a member of the Australian Jockey and Victoria Racing clubs; a successful owner, he and A. C. Lewis won the Caulfield Cup with Peshawar in 1953. Snow was 'mad about' his gardens at Kenilworth, Bowral, and at his Wahroonga home, and took his family on fishing holidays. He also belonged to the New South Wales and Australian clubs, Sydney, and the Athenaeum in Melbourne. Big, with blue eyes, Snow was an impressive man, physically and mentally.

With interests in all States by the late 1930s and an office in London, he was a director of Broken Hill South Ltd, General Industries Ltd, H. B. Dickie Ltd, Commonwealth Industrial Gases Ltd and other companies. He was also governing director of his own company and chairman of the local board of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Co. Pty Ltd and of Snows Men's Wear Ltd, Melbourne, run by his brother (Sir) Gordon (1898-1954). Active in the Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales, Sir Sydney became president in 1937. He defended youth employment against criticism by the Industrial Commission and argued that its decision to limit females to one-half of the workforce in some shops would displace women workers (who were paid less than men) and increase selling costs. In 1941 he joined the State Recruiting Committee. Next year, at a mass meeting of retail traders, he fought the proposal by John Dedman, minister for war organization of industry, to transfer 40,000 men and women from larger retailing firms to war production, arguing that 'it is one thing to lose our assets through the exigencies of war and another to lose them through the meddling of inexperienced economists'. Snow was an executive member of the Food for Britain fund and vice-president (1948-49) of the Citizens' Reform Association.

Despite rationing, Snow's store had continued to flourish in the war years. He managed to reduce overheads while increasing turnover above pre-war levels. His achievement was considerable, given that his city store (like others in the area) was being overtaken by the concentration of retailers on the Pitt and Market streets axis. By 1951 Snow had opened another store at Camperdown. In failing health, he sold out to Cox Bros (Australia) Ltd in 1954 for over £1,250,000 and lived thereafter at Bowral.

Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, Sir Sydney died on 24 November 1958 in the Scottish Hospital, Paddington, and was cremated after a service at St Columba's Presbyterian Church, Woollahra. He left an estate sworn for probate at some £267,000.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Roe (ed), Twentieth Century Sydney (Syd, 1980)
  • Draper of Australasia, Oct 1911, Mar 1912, Feb, Sept 1914
  • Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales, Journal, Oct 1937
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Nov 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Feb 1931, 28 May 1932, 11 Sept 1934, 20 Oct 1935, 23 June 1936, 1 July, 17 Sept 1937, 12 Jan 1938, 28 June 1941, 20 Nov 1942, 13 May, 16 July 1948, 5 Mar 1949, 25 Nov 1958
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Snow, Sir Sydney (1887–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/snow-sir-sydney-8570/text14959, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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