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Charles John Dennys (1818–1898)

by Frank Strahan

This article was published:

Charles John Dennys (1818-1898), wool-broker and stock and station agent, was born in October 1818 in England, son of Nicholas Belfield Dennys, wine merchant of London, and his wife Eliza, née Lascelles. Part of his education was in Germany. In 1842 he migrated to Melbourne but soon moved to Geelong and farmed land on 'model' principles by the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers. In 1847 he bought the Barwon Melting Establishment, a tallow-rendering works near the Geelong breakwater. By 1850 a leather warehouse was added. He was helped by his cousin, Thomas Allen Lascelles junior, a business association which developed into Dennys Lascelles Ltd, one of the great Victorian wool-broking houses. Shortage of labour in the gold rushes led to the closing of the melting works in 1852 and in July Dennys formed a general agency business with his brother-in-law Edward Walton and cousin Lascelles under the name C. J. Dennys & Co. This partnership dissolved in March 1853 and Dennys left for England.

On his return Dennys decided to begin local wool auctions in Geelong. The usual practice for merchants had been to advance money to growers for their wool and to ship it for sale in London. Dennys's first sale, 160 bales from Gorinn station near Ararat, was in November 1857. Others had held earlier sales in Geelong, but they lacked the large premises offered by Dennys at his Western Wool Warehouse, an iron building on Victoria Terrace. In September 1858 Dennys advertised his intention to establish a 'Local Wool Mart', and claimed to have the support of the leading local merchant firms. He also invoked the traditional rivalry between Geelong and Melbourne by stating that one of his aims was to avoid the cost of shipping wool to Melbourne and that 'The auction sales held here last season have proved that this town is not beyond the pale of Melbourne buyers, Melbourne speculators, and Melbourne brokers'. He offered 849 bales at his sale on 9 November 1858 and sold 662.

In 1861 Dennys built new tallow works at Brown's Marsh, but wool remained his major interest. In 1864 his nephew Martin Lascelles Dennys came into partnership and the name C. J. Dennys & Co. was restored. The business prospered: in the 1867-68 selling season they catalogued 10,500 bales and Edward Harewood Lascelles became a partner. To provide larger premises they bought an old coal yard in Moorabool Street, Geelong, in December 1870. An imposing bluestone wool-store and offices were built and opened on 1 August 1872 with a third-floor banquet followed by a wool sale. Despite the company's success much of the wool had not been sold because high reserve prices were imposed by growers who, while overseas news came by sea mail, dreamt of the possibility of higher prices in London. For example, only 3600 bales of the 10,500 catalogued were sold in 1867-68. A big change came in 1872 when the opening of the telegraphic link with Britain brought the latest reports on London prices. In that year, too, Geelong had three woollen mills and a fourth was opened in 1874, and American buyers, attracted to his wool sales, popularized the term 'Geelong Wools' for the Western District clip. In the 1877-78 season the company sold 21,000 bales. Its name had been changed to Dennys Lascelles & Co. in 1875, and after M. L. Dennys withdrew in 1877 David Strachan became a partner. In September 1881 the prominent grazier, Sidney Austin, of Barwon Park, Winchelsea, joined the company and its name became Dennys, Lascelles, Austin & Co. Marcel Conran was admitted as a partner in 1889, together with George Young of Young Brothers, Horsham, whose firm became a subsidiary. Dennys remained the leading influence in the company until 1898 when 41,000 bales were sold.

Dennys had few notable activities outside his business career. He attended the first meeting of the District Council of Grant, held privately on 21 September 1843, and was appointed secretary at its first open meeting on 19 October. In July 1857 he was elected to the first South Barwon Municipal Council. In 1871 he unsuccessfully contested one of the two Legislative Assembly seats for Geelong East. He was a steward at the first Geelong horse-races in July 1843 and at the first Geelong regatta on 20 March 1844. In the early 1840s he served on the committee of the Geelong & Portland Bay Immigration Society. His early association with Germany led to his influencing many German migrants to the Geelong district. An Anglican, he had married his cousin Martha Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Allen Lascelles senior, in December 1855. Aged 80 he died on 4 February 1898 at his home, Claremont, Newtown Hill, Geelong, survived by his daughters Laura, Emmeline and Ethel, wife of E. H. Lascelles. His estate was probated at only £3734. It is not known what money he had settled earlier on his family but his company's resources were severely strained in 1896 by expensive, if visionary, loans to struggling farmers on subdivisions in the Victorian Mallee.

Dennys was known for his kindliness and generosity. His career showed strong talent, imagination and resolution. A successful businessman, he exploited the opportunities offered by the rich Victorian Western District, for the benefit of Geelong as well as himself, and he was an influential pioneer of the process whereby domestic sales of Australian wool surpassed London sales by the mid-1890s.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 24, 26
  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • P. L. Brown, ‘Historical summary’, Dennys, Lascelles Limited Annual Wool Report and Centenary Review, Aug 1957
  • P. L. Brown, Clyde Company Papers, vols 4-5 (Lond, 1959, 1963)
  • Dennys Lascelles Ltd papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Strahan, 'Dennys, Charles John (1818–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 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]


October, 1818


4 February, 1898 (aged 79)
Geelong, Victoria, Australia

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