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George Herbert Patterson (1890–1968)

by Karen Hutchings

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George Herbert Patterson (1890-1968), advertising entrepreneur and businessman, was born on 24 August 1890 in South Melbourne, fourth child and only son of John Alfred Patterson (d.1899), a comedian from Hobart, and his wife Frances Julia, née Rogers, an actress from Sydney. He was named after his maternal grandfather George Herbert Rogers, who had been well known on the Australian stage. Young George's lifelong love and patronage of the theatre, opera, music and art owed much to his theatrical background. He was educated at Carlton College, Parkville. After their mother died in 1905, the children were sent to live with relations. In the following year George was compelled to earn a living to help support his sisters.

Starting as an office-boy with Thomas McPherson & Son, machinery merchants, Patterson rose to advertising manager by 1908. About 1912 he embarked on the first of many journeys, visiting Britain and working in New York. When World War I began, he returned to Australia to enlist, but was rejected on medical grounds and set up an advertising firm in Melbourne. On 29 June 1915 he succeeded in joining the Australian Imperial Force. He served in Egypt (1915-16) with the Australian Army Medical Corps and on the Western Front (1916-17) with the Australian Army Pay Corps, and rose to sergeant. An agent mismanaged his business and Patterson was permitted to return to Melbourne where he was discharged from the army on 3 January 1918. At St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 27 August that year he married Maud Rigby, née Raybould (d.1959), who had served overseas with the Australian Army Nursing Service; eight years his senior, she was a widow with a daughter. Maud and George were to have a daughter (d.1919) and a son of their own.

In 1920 Patterson went into partnership with Norman Catts to form the Sydney-based advertising agency, Catts-Patterson Co. Ltd. They acquired the Palmolive Co. Australasia Ltd and Ford Motor Co. of Australia Pty Ltd as clients, and later the Dunlop Rubber Co. of Australasia Ltd, Berlei Ltd, Gillette Safety Razor Co. of Australia Pty Ltd and Pepsodent Co. (Australia) Ltd. In 1934, following a series of disagreements with Catts and a bout of severe illness, Patterson resigned. He bought out the virtually bankrupt Griffin, Shave & Russell Co. Pty Ltd and formed George Patterson Pty Ltd. Although—for ethical reasons—he discouraged his former clients from following him to his new agency, Colgate-Palmolive and Gillette were the first to do so. The personal loyalty that he inspired in his clients and staff owed much to his generosity, gregarious nature and interest in their welfare.

During the 1930s Patterson travelled extensively abroad. He responded to wartime newsprint shortages by developing the Colgate-Palmolive Radio Unit which produced programmes featuring stars such as 'Roy Rene', Jack Davey and Bob Dyer. During World War II Patterson's used both radio and newspaper advertising to publicize recruiting drives and assist the sale of war bonds. Patterson was an air-raid warden at Bellevue Hill, his home suburb. Committed to the Australian Red Cross Society, he served as a member of its New South Wales divisional council and executive (1940-68), and on the national council (1941-68). He organized and chaired the Red Cross's rehabilitation (social service) and publicity committees, and was made an honorary life member of the national council in 1961.

An astute businessman, Patterson had also been chairman of Gillette Australia, and a director of Colgate-Palmolive, Peek Frean (Australia) Ltd and Phipson & Co. Ltd. His position on the boards of most of his major clients 'made it rather difficult for other agencies to get their foot in the door'. After a period of intense ill health caused by heavy smoking, he retired in 1952, handing over his position to his stepdaughter's husband Lincoln William Farnsworth. In retirement, Patterson indulged his literary and sporting proclivities. He published his autobiography, Life Has Been Wonderful (1956), and two books on trout fishing, Chasing Rainbows (1959) and Angling in the Andes (1961). Landscape painting, collecting antiques, golf, tennis and fishing were his favourite pastimes. He contributed regularly to Art in Australia and was a friend of (Sir) William Ashton. Patterson belonged to the Royal Sydney Golf, Elanora Country and the Australian clubs.

At St Michael's Church, Vaucluse, on 20 February 1961 he married his nurse Florence Mary Stonelake, née Mason, a 62-year-old widow. Patterson died on 19 December 1968 at Woollahra and was cremated; his wife, stepdaughter and the son of his first marriage survived him. A portrait of him by E. Wright is held by the firm, George Patterson Bates, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • B & T Weekly, 9 Jan 1969, 9 Nov 1984
  • Newspaper News, 10 Jan 1969
  • Parade, Sept 1977
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Jan 1957, 26 Aug 1959, 23 Dec 1968
  • Bulletin, 27 Mar 1957
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 26 Aug 1959, 23 Dec 1968
  • Financial Review, 23 Dec 1968
  • Ad News, 14 Oct 1988
  • Ashton family papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Karen Hutchings, 'Patterson, George Herbert (1890–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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