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Tancred, Henry Eugene (1897–1961)

by Richard Waterhouse

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

Henry Eugene Tancred (1897-1961), Rugby footballer, meat wholesaler and exporter, and horse-racing administrator, was born on 25 May 1897 at Balmain, Sydney, sixth of ten children of Thomas Tancred, a butcher from California, United States of America, and his Victorian-born wife Anna, née O'Connor. Harry was educated at the Christian Brothers' St Joseph's School, Rozelle, before his family moved to Wellington, New Zealand, to pursue further opportunities in the meat trade. Leaving school at the age of 13, he worked as a drover and then as a slaughterman.

Harry Tancred played for the Petone Rugby (Union) Football Club's first-grade side from 1914 and represented New Zealand on Rugby League tours to Australia in 1919 and 1921 (captain). Six ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall and 15 stone (95 kg) in weight, he was 'strong, burly and fast for a man of his build'. Resettling in Sydney, he played in the forwards for the State Rugby Union side against the visiting New Zealand Maoris in 1923. For his contributions as a player and as an administrator with the Randwick and Drummoyne clubs, he was to be made a life member of the New South Wales Rugby Union. At the Church of Mary Immaculate, Waverley, on 1 June 1929 he married Myra Kathleen Bresnahan with Catholic rites.

Tancred gave up football to concentrate on the family's growing meat business, Tancred Bros, which he had started 'on a shoestring' in 1922. He was founding chairman and managing director of Tancred Bros Pty Ltd in 1932, and of its successor, Tancred Bros Industries Ltd, which was registered as a public company in 1956. Tancred Bros became one of the country's largest wholesale butchering firms. It owned meatworks at Tenterfield and Bourke, and at Beaudesert, Queensland, and had grazing interests throughout Australia. President (1929) of the Wholesale Meat Traders' Protective Association, Tancred was a member of the Meat Industry Advisory Committee during World War II and of the Australian Meat Board (1946-61). He travelled extensively overseas.

His work involved stock deals with men connected with the turf, whose conversation stimulated his interest in horse-racing. Tancred bought his first horse, Thornleigh, for 100 guineas in 1929. Trained by Jack Jamieson, it won a dozen races, mostly in the Grafton area. Tancred subsequently owned a series of moderately performed horses until he acquired a bay colt named High Caste in 1937 for 7000 guineas. Known as 'The Strawberry Bull', because of the fleck in his red coat, High Caste won the Australian Jockey Club's Epsom Handicap in 1940. Maurice McCarten later trained Tancred's horses.

In 1943 the State Labor government established the Sydney Turf Club and empowered it to stage race meetings and wind up the proprietary racing clubs. Whereas the A.J.C. committee was dominated by wealthy graziers, many with Country Party affiliations, the first S.T.C. directors—Tancred among them—tended to be lawyers or self-made, wealthy businessmen, less likely to be aligned with conservative political parties.

Impressed by the amenities at American racecourses during his visit in 1946, Tancred was receptive to innovations. While he was vice-chairman (1945-53), the S.T.C. introduced the photo-finish camera in 1946 and replaced the wire starting system with barrier stalls in 1947. As chairman (from 1953), Tancred continued to push for the modernization of racing. Electrical timing devices and patrol films were introduced, and the first Golden Slipper Stakes, for two-year-olds, was run at Rosehill in 1957. Less successful were the trials of totalizator-only betting meetings held early in 1959: attendances and turnover both dropped, a sign that bookmakers were still a racing drawcard. Although Tancred was not a good mixer, he was willing to listen to criticism.

After suffering a severe stroke, Tancred resigned as chairman in 1959. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1960. Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter, he died of a coronary occlusion on 15 November 1961 at his Bellevue Hill home and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

His youngest brother Arnold Joseph (1904-1963) was born on 30 October 1904 at Leichhardt and educated at St Patrick's College, Wellington. He returned to Sydney in the mid-1920s and played Rugby Union for Glebe-Balmain. With another brother, James, he toured Britain, France and Canada with the New South Wales Waratahs in 1927-28. A 'tall, vigorous back row forward', he was 'a fearsome tackler, but lacked pace'. He managed the Australian Wallaby team that toured Britain and France in 1947-48, and was president of the New South Wales Rugby Union in 1959.

Arnold succeeded his brother Harry as chairman and managing director of Tancred Bros and was a member (1961-63) of the Meat Board. He pioneered the export of meat to the U.S.A. Keen on horse-racing, he owned Putoko, which won the Brisbane Cup in 1952. He died of a coronary occlusion on 22 September 1963 at his Drummoyne home and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. His wife Mary Esther, née Brett, whom he had married on 9 May 1935 at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, and their two daughters and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Boulter, Forty Years On, the Sydney Turf Club (Syd, 1984)
  • N. Penton, A Racing Heart (Syd, 1987)
  • M. Painter and R. Waterhouse, The Principal Club (Syd, 1992)
  • People (Sydney), 16 Nov 1955
  • Meat Producer and Exporter, Nov 1961, p 2
  • Oct 1963, p 2
  • Pastoral Review, 19 Dec 1961, p 1411
  • Referee (Sydney), 11 June 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1929, 17 Aug 1943, 20 Apr 1945, 2 Nov, 30 Dec 1946, 4 Jan, 9 June, 15 Oct 1947, 1 Nov 1952, 22 Jan 1953, 26 Feb, 14 July 1959, 1 Jan 1960, 16 Nov 1961, 6 Apr 1962, 23 Sept 1963, 22 Mar 1986.

Citation details

Richard Waterhouse, 'Tancred, Henry Eugene (1897–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tancred-henry-eugene-11820/text21151, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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