Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick Gonnerman Dalgety (1817–1894)

by R. M. Hartwell

This article was published:

Frederick Gonnerman Dalgety (1817-1894), merchant and financier, was born on 3 December 1817 in Canada, son of Alexander Dalgety, army officer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Doidge. He arrived at Sydney on 2 June 1834 in the Dryade and became a clerk in T. C. Breillat & Co. In December 1842 he moved to Melbourne as manager of a new firm which he rapidly made his own and by 1848 was an independent and well-to-do merchant, concentrating on 'the settlers' trade', providing merchandise for the squatters and buying their produce. He visited England in 1849 to strengthen his facilities for credit and the disposal of colonial produce and returned to Victoria in 1851. In the gold rush Dalgety continued with general business, enlarged his pastoral trade, sold merchandise to the diggers and bought much gold from them; in 1851-55 he made about £150,000 from his gold speculations alone. In 1854 he moved to London to establish the headquarters of a metropolitan-colonial enterprise dealing mainly with the Victorian pastoral industry. He took with him as London partner Frederick Du Croz, and left C. Ibbotson as a colonial manager-partner in Geelong; he returned to Victoria in 1857 to establish James Blackwood as another manager-partner in Melbourne. These four men between them were mainly responsible for the expansion and success of the Dalgety business; until 1884 only one other partner, E. T. Doxat, was added to the London firm. Dalgety lived in England after 1859, making one last trip to Australia and New Zealand in 1881. By 1884 Dalgety had firms in London, Melbourne, Geelong, Launceston, Dunedin (opened in 1859), Christchurch (1860) and Sydney (1878), with ten partners and a combined capital of £900,000, of which Dalgety held £300,000 and his original partners £350,000. In 1884 the firms were incorporated into a joint-stock company, Dalgety & Co., in which Dalgety continued in active management as largest shareholder and chairman of directors until his death.

On 12 December 1855 Dalgety married Blanche Trosse Allen; she died on 11 April 1883. He held various civic offices in Hampshire and was high sheriff in 1877; he was also by purchase lord of the manors and patron of the livings of East Tytherley and Lockerley. In 1868-73 he had built Lockerley Hall, a mansion and estate worth £238,000. He died there on 20 March 1894, survived by five daughters and five sons, none of whom went into the business. He left at least seven stations in New Zealand valued at £160,000 and personalty at more than £479,900. Except for an abortive Kimberley speculation, his private property in Australia had been sold profitably in the 1880s.

Dalgety's importance to Australia was his role in the development of large-scale facilities for financing and organizing the production and marketing of rural produce. He was one of the first merchants to see clearly the potentiality and needs of the squatters, and to exploit the mercantile and financial resources of Britain for the growing requirements of the Australian economy. Since Britain provided both market and capital Dalgety realized, earlier than most, the greater strength of a business with its London headquarters closely co-operating with colonial branches. Except for the important gold interlude, wool was the core of Dalgety's business and it grew with the pastoral industry; by 1880 his firms were consigning over 70,000 bales a year, about 90 per cent of the firms' colonial exports, and about 7 per cent of the total Australasian clip exported. Beginning as a merchant for the squatters, he gradually widened his activities to provide wool-growers with such necessary services as finance, transport, storage, insurance, technical advice and wool sales. With the rapid growth of the pastoral industry after 1860 when technical change and the consolidation of freeholds demanded large capital outlays, Dalgety was increasingly involved in finance; his firms contributed about 10 per cent of the inflow of British long-term capital into the industry by pastoral finance companies from 1866 until 1884 when his private partnerships were forced into incorporation by the increasing demand for capital and the competition joint-stock companies and banks. However, in the next three years Dalgety branches were opened in Queensland and Western Australia, and the properties and assets of the company increased by 50 per cent. Dalgety & Co. continued to grow after its founder died and in 1962 merged with the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Co. Ltd; with assets of £44 million in 1963 it was the largest pastoral combine operating in the antipodes.

Dalgety had no interests outside his business, family and estates; his only pastime was shooting. He never dabbled in politics although, as the largest Australian wool importer in London, he was the natural focus of Australian pastoral and London wool interests, and chairman of the Colonial Wool Merchants' Association. The upbringing of his children was gentlemanly, not commercial; he married his eldest daughter into the aristocracy with a dowry of £20,000.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 2-6 (Lond, 1952-68)
  • Dalgety papers (Lockerley Hall, Hampshire)
  • Dalgety & Co. Ltd Archives (Leadenhall St, London)
  • Dalgety & Co. Ltd records, Australian branches (Australian National University Archives).

Additional Resources

Related Thematic Essay

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. M. Hartwell, 'Dalgety, Frederick Gonnerman (1817–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 December, 1817


20 March, 1894 (aged 76)
Lockerley, Hampshire, England

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