Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Sutcliffe Horsfall (1837–1916)

by K. J. Swan

This article was published:

John Sutcliffe Horsfall (1837-1916), wool-broker and pastoralist, was born on 12 September 1837 at Haworth, Yorkshire, England, son of Jones Horsfall and his wife Martha, née Sutcliffe. As a boy he was impressed by his father's friend, Branwell Bronte. Horsfall was educated in Bradford and then worked in the family woollen mills. Discontented he migrated to Victoria in June 1856. In 1857 he joined the firm of Richard Goldsbrough as a travelling representative and in 1864 was given a share of the profits as well as his £1000 salary. In 1873 he became a partner. Horsfall extended the business and built up a large personal following. In 1877 he became a director of the Australian Agency and Banking Corporation Ltd which in 1881 merged with R. Goldsbrough & Co. In 1888 the firm amalgamated with Mort & Co. of Sydney to form Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Ltd. Horsfall remained a director and was on the local committee of management. His policy of lower dividends, increasing reserves and squaring advances with securities was popular with the London board but not among his fellow committeemen.

Horsfall's first pastoral investment was Ensay in Gippsland. In the drought of the late 1880s he acquired Widgiewa, Momalong and Kerarbury in the Riverina, financed by Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. When he resigned in 1889 a committee of shareholders exonerated him from a charge of embezzling £25 but could not stop a pamphlet war between him and Andrew Rowan, each accusing the other of improperly taking large advances from the company. In 1890 Rowan sued Horsfall for £25,000 damages for libel. Next year the case went to arbitration and Rowan was awarded £50 but costs were shared. In 1892 Horsfall became pastoral adviser to the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency. About 1894 he returned to Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. as pastoral adviser; his secret price was a £10,000 advance to his son-in-law, Rupert Carington, and in 1904 his agreement with the firm was not renewed. Influenced by his neighbour, Samuel McCaughey, in 1892 Horsfall introduced Vermont blood into his stud merinos and by 1905 had won eight championships at the Sydney Sheep Show and in 1906-07 bred the grand champion rams. He was a vice-president of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association. In 1909-12 he sold all his stations except Kerarbury and became curmudgeonly with fears of 'certain poverty impending, thanks to labour legislation which is very hard on large land-holders like myself, simply confiscation in many cases'.

In 1912-16 Horsfall reluctantly gave £10,000 for a chapel in memory of his daughter Edith at Trinity College in the University of Melbourne after Dr Alexander Leeper had accepted his unmatriculated nephew. A friend of Maurice Brodzky, he had probably supplied information for the exposures in Table Talk of fraudulent Victorian companies in the early 1890s. Horsfall visited England at least once and New Zealand many times. He equipped and sent 200 bushmen to the Boer war. His great pleasure was boating and he kept a small fleet at Widgiewa. He died on 11 June 1916 at Toorak, survived by a son and several daughters of his first wife Mary, née Maiden, and by his second wife Agnes, née Mahoney. He had already provided for his daughters and his son Richard inherited nearly £115,000.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Rowan, Letter … to the Shareholders, Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. Ltd (Melb, 1889)
  • A. Bird, The Horsfall Chapel, Trinity College (Church of England Historical Society, Melbourne, no date)
  • M. Cannon, The Land Boomers (Melb, 1966)
  • 'Goldsbrough, Mort and Company Limited', Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, vol 13, no 11, Nov 1889, pp 819-20
  • Australasian, 12 Apr, 17 May 1890, 28 Mar, 15, 25 Apr 1891, 5 Sept 1896, 30 Oct 1897
  • 'News Jottings', Australasian Pastoralists' Review, vol 2, no 4, June 1892, p 669
  • Australasian Pastoralists' Review, 15 Sept 1892
  • 'Mr. J. S. Horsfall', Australasian Pastoralists' Review, vol 3, no 11, Jan 1894, p 536
  • 'Pastoral Celebrities: Mr. J. S. Horsfall', Pastoralists' Review, vol 15, no 5, July 1905, p 535
  • Pastoral Review, 15 July 1916
  • Goldsbrough Mort & Co. records (Australian National University Archives)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

K. J. Swan, 'Horsfall, John Sutcliffe (1837–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 June 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]


12 September, 1837
Haworth, Yorkshire, England


11 June, 1916 (aged 78)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.