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Richard Goldsbrough (1821–1886)

by Alan Barnard

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Richard Goldsbrough (1821-1886), woolbroker, was born on 17 October 1821 at Shipley, Yorkshire, England, the only son of Joshua Goldsbrough, butcher, and his wife Hannah, née Speight. In 1842 he completed a seven-year apprenticeship in near-by Bradford, set up in business in that city and married Emma, daughter of Samuel Hodgson, a Halifax butcher living in Ovenden. His business as woolstapler was small but prospered modestly. His success depended partly on the skill with which he sorted and repacked purchased wools to meet the individual requirements of different manufacturers. With this skill he arrived at Melbourne in the Warrior on 29 November 1847 and founded his business in September 1848. His wife remained in England until at least 1850.

At first Goldsbrough's main business was in classing and repacking wool for growers and for merchants who bought it as a way of remitting funds to England, and in classing sheep on properties. The purchase of J. & R. Bakewell's business in 1850 made Goldsbrough the leading broker in Melbourne and provided the occasion to establish the first regular auction sales of wool in the colony. From 1852 Goldsbrough was assisted by his brother-in-law, Hugh Parker, to whom he gave a share in the profits from 1854 and a formal partnership in 1857. By that time Goldsbrough had entered other branches of the wool trade and industry. With Edward Row and George Kirk he formed the firm of E. Row & Co. in 1853; it became Row, Kirk & Co. in 1860. The partners acted as auctioneers at Goldsbrough's wool sales and developed a large clientele as stock and station salesmen. After the partnership dissolved in 1863 Goldsbrough's own firm began selling stock and stations. As private speculations he and Kirk bought several large pastoral properties on the Murray and Lachlan Rivers, among them Perricoota, Tatallia, Cowl Cowl and Ballingerambill, which they resold advantageously before 1867. Later, in partnership with Parker and perhaps Edward Row's nephew, Goldsbrough developed the Traralgon West cattle station in Gippsland. In the 1870s he was associated with Alexander Robertson, John Wagner and Salathiel Booth in such other properties as Midkin, Auburn, Mount Hope, Gunbar, Bael Bael and Murrumbit. Goldsbrough was also a partner in, and probably financed, the hide and skin business operated by close relations of Frederick Row and Parker.

The woolbroking partnership was strengthened in 1873 by the addition of John Horsfall and David and Arthur Parker in 1876. By the 1860s woolclassing and packing were minor among Goldsbrough's services; selling wool in Melbourne, consigning it for sale in London on behalf of growers and providing short- and long-term credit for pastoralists were the major elements. Lending to squatters in central Victoria and the Riverina proved very profitable in the decade of squatting boom. At the end of the 1860s a pastoral depression reduced stock and station values, diminished income and a sharp fall in profits placed Goldsbrough at the mercy of banks from which he borrowed the money he lent. Bank forbearance permitted him to extricate himself but heavy capital losses stood as stark reminders of the vulnerability of borrowing short and lending long. To escape dependence on banks Goldsbrough sought to amalgamate with a public company having access to British investment funds. After unsuccessful negotiations with the Australian Mortgage Land & Finance Co. in 1874, a satisfactory merger with the Australasian Agency and Banking Corporation was effected in 1881. Next year, after bidding unsuccessfully to purchase the business of Mort & Co. in Sydney, the new concern opened its own branch there. The amalgamation creating Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd was not carried through until 1888.

Open-minded and generous in many ways, Goldsbrough's charity was an essentially private affair; to public appeals he contributed selectively and rarely with largesse. He had few public interests outside his business and the Victoria Racing Club. Never an owner himself and rarely a large better, he was fascinated by the turf and was a steward of the V.R.C. from its formation until 1886. To horse-racing as to his other private interests he brought a gargantuan zest for living that bore out the promise of his height and girth. His song was loud, his laughter boisterous. While holidaying in England he entertained a champagne-loaded party at the Ascot races in a coach surmounted by a large emu-emblazoned flag, to the immense discomposure of English friends. That his enjoyment of wine and spirits was undiminished nearly forty years after the convivial evenings with cards and claret recalled by Alfred Joyce is apparent from the contents of Goldsbrough's cellar when he died: 150 gallons (682 litres) of whisky, nearly 70 (318 litres) of brandy and 100 (455 litres) of sherry, 36 (164 litres) of sixty-six-year-old port, and much else. Goldsbrough was also exuberant in other ways. His children by his wife Emma Hodgson (1822-1877), possibly as many as three, died young in Yorkshire. More specified natural offspring were credited him by gossip, and liberal use of his surname in the baptism of his friends' and associates' children hardly discouraged invention. Recent DNA analysis though shows that his heir, Richard Goldsbrough Row, was indeed his son with Elizabeth Selena, Frederick Row’s wife.

Goldsbrough had begun to withdraw from active management of the firm before the internal tumour, from which he died on 8 April 1886 after a seven-month illness, became apparent. He had devoted thirty years to persuading growers to sell their wool in Melbourne and buyers to travel from England and the Continent to buy it, and to providing services and facilities that would help persuade them. His wool stores, designed with that purpose, formed the basis of a distinctively Australian style of building. He played an important role in the evolution of Australian wool-broking practices, in the creation of a formalized and efficient selling system and in the development of financial techniques that provided the credit basis for Australia's pastoral expansion in 1860-90. In these contributions, arising solely and directly from his business activities, Goldsbrough's significance lies.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Joyce, A Homestead History, G. F. James ed (Melb, 1942)
  • A. Barnard, The Australian Wool Market, 1840-1900 (Melb, 1958)
  • Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd, Wool and the Nation (Melb, 1960)
  • Goldsbrough Mort & Co. records (Australian National University Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Barnard, 'Goldsbrough, Richard (1821–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 30 May 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

Richard Goldsbrough, 1886

Richard Goldsbrough, 1886

State Library of Victoria, IAN28/04/86/68

Life Summary [details]


17 October, 1821
Shipley, Yorkshire, England


8 April, 1886 (aged 64)
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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