Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Godfrey Jacob Marshall Best (1894–1970)

by L. M. Heath

This article was published:

Godfrey Jacob Marshall Best (1894-1970), insurance manager, was born on 20 August 1894 at Leytonstone, Essex, England, son of Samuel Best, a germ-malt factor, and his wife Rachel, née Britten. Educated at Essex County High School, in 1911 Godfrey joined the London office of the Prudential Assurance Co. Ltd as a junior clerk. He served in France with the London Rifle Brigade before being commissioned in May 1915 in the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers); he was later attached to the King's African Rifles and was promoted lieutenant in July 1917. On 24 November that year he married Hylda Lilian Andrews at the parish church, Basingstoke, Hampshire. He was employed by the Ministry of Labour until August 1919.

Returning to the Prudential, by 1924 Best had become a fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute. Next year he tutored candidates for the institute's examinations and lectured for the London County Council. In 1930 he was transferred to Sydney as assistant-manager of the company's Australia and New Zealand branch; he was to become manager in 1938. A staunch supporter of Britain and the Empire, in 1931 Best endorsed the Prudential's lead in encouraging large insurance companies and investment houses to defend the pound sterling by transferring £100 million of foreign investments to the Bank of England in exchange for British government sterling securities. He explained that the company 'is not merely a commercial concern, but rather a national institution willing and eager for public service'.

In December 1939 Best pleaded for greater co-operation with the United States of America and suggested that Australia should form a Pacific peace pact with Canada, New Zealand, the U.S.A. and, eventually, Japan. He deplored the short-sightedness of vested interests in Australia which had 'torpedoed' a trade agreement with the Americans. In July 1940 he warned Sydneysiders that they could not afford to be complacent about their security; by December, as chairman of the National Emergency Services citizens' committee, he organized mock air-raids over the city. As a councillor of the Australian-American Co-operation Movement, in 1943 Best advocated even closer ties with the Americans so that Australia could play a significant part in postwar negotiations. He urged the Big Brother Movement to prepare for increased immigration after the war and supported the Food for Britain Appeal. Best met the challenge of World War II by expanding Prudential's business threefold. Having visited England in 1946, he retired in 1948 and moved from Vaucluse to Longueville.

Best was chairman (1955-68) of Sebels (Australia) Ltd, and a director of Hanimex Corporation Ltd and the Acme Bedstead Co. Ltd. A lifelong member of the Boy Scouts' Association (which he had joined in 1909), he was chairman (from 1943) of the State executive and in 1954 became chairman of the federal council. In 1958 he was appointed M.B.E. Resourceful, reliable and confident of the future, he belonged to the Australian, Imperial Service and Elanora Country clubs, and to the Legacy Club of Sydney; he enjoyed tennis, golf, swimming and trout-fishing. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died on 4 March 1970 in hospital at Wahroonga and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • A. C. Gray, Life Insurance in Australia (Melb, 1977)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Apr 1948
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Sept 1931, 23 July 1938, 8 Dec 1939, 12 July, 4, 11, 12 Dec 1940, 26 Aug, 23 Sept, 15 Oct 1943, 25 Apr 1946, 11 Sept 1948, 1 Oct 1949, 12 June, 9, 11 Aug 1958, 10 Mar 1970.

Citation details

L. M. Heath, 'Best, Godfrey Jacob Marshall (1894–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 9 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


20 August, 1894
London, Middlesex, England


4 March, 1970 (aged 75)
Wahroonga, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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