Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Henry Gocher (1856–1921)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published:

William Henry Gocher (1856-1921), artist, bimetallist and pioneer daylight surfer, was born on 20 March 1856 at Ipswich, Suffolk, England, son of Charles Gocher, salesman, and his wife Louisa, née King. He was educated at St John's College, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex. He and several of his four brothers and five sisters were converted to Roman Catholicism. Each son was given £1000 and three of them came to Australia, William Henry about 1872. From about 1884 he worked in Sydney as an artist, painting portraits (sometimes of the famous), religious pictures and racehorses.

In the 1890s Gocher was caught up in the bimetallic movement. Vice-president of the Bimetallic League of New South Wales, he published in 1897 a pamphlet, Australia, the Light of the World, which urged the creation of a national, state-owned bank, the closing of private banks, the coining of silver and the issue of a ten-shilling note. He greatly admired William Jennings Bryan and looked to Federation to save Australia from the 'jeers of Jews, capitalists and the press'. He stood for the Senate in 1901, coming forty-ninth out of fifty candidates—he failed similarly at State elections in 1901 and 1904. Retaining his enthusiasm for bimetallism when the movement waned, he was president of the Australian Currency League in about 1912-18. In 1918 he published Australia Must be Heard, a pamphlet which incorporated some earlier writings in an appeal to the Pope to bring about an armistice.

For some years Gocher wrote for John Norton's Truth; when he inherited money in 1900 he moved his family to Manly and established a short-lived newspaper, the Manly and North Sydney News. Through this paper he staged the scene at Manly for which he is remembered. He determined to expose the irrelevance of the local government regulations which forbade sea-bathing in daylight hours. The issue was one of public decency as there were no changing sheds and swimming costumes were rare. Clad in a neck-to-knee costume, Gocher in October 1902 swam at midday after announcing his intentions in his paper. Twice ignored by the authorities, he duly criticized their lack of zeal; on a third occasion he was escorted from the water and interviewed by the police who brought no charges. In November 1903 the reluctant Manly council resolved to allow all-day bathing, rapidly growing in popularity, provided that a neck-to-knee costume was worn. Gocher claimed a triumph and in 1907 friends presented him with a gold watch and a purse of fifty sovereigns.

In 1906 Gocher sold for £500 a block of land bought at Manly cheaply in 1900 and returned to the city to launch the short-lived Balmain Banner, 'a democratic journal … brisk and fearless'. At Surry Hills on 2 May 1888 he had married Elizabeth Josephine Storm who was born at Balmain. She was well educated, played the piano and taught in Catholic schools. Gocher was slightly built, 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm), wore glasses and smoked a pipe. Greatly distressed by a son's death at Gallipoli, he had a stroke in 1917. He died on 18 August 1921 of arteriosclerosis and chronic nephritis and was buried in Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife (d.1937), four sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • P. W. Gledhill, Manly and Pittwater, its Beauty and Progress (Syd, 1948)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 28 Mar 1901
  • private information.

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Gocher, William Henry (1856–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 March, 1856
Ipswich, Suffolk, England


18 August, 1921 (aged 65)
New South Wales, Australia

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