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Proud, Sir John Seymour (1907–1997)

by Karen Fox

This article was published online in 2022

This is a shared entry with George Proud

Sir John Seymour Proud (1907–1997) and Sir George Proud (1910–1976), businessmen, were brothers. John was born on 9 August 1907 at Burwood, Sydney, fourth child of New South Wales-born parents William James Proud, jeweller and importer, and his wife Hannah, née Seymour. Educated at Manly Public and Sydney Grammar schools, John began his working life at Proud’s Ltd, the jewellery company founded by his father, before entering the University of Sydney (BE, 1935), where he studied mining and metallurgy.

Moving to Tasmania, John managed the Mount Paris tin mine at Branxholm. After returning to Sydney, he worked as a mining consultant and was manager of an engineering works. In February 1937 he had been seriously injured in a plane crash in the McPherson Range during a flight from Brisbane to Sydney in which four people died. Stranded for more than a week with another survivor—a third had died attempting to get to help—he was rescued after the pair were found by Bernard O’Reilly, who would write Green Mountains (1940), a popular account of the search. On 22 June 1938 he married Ivy Victoria Ellaleen Arthur (d. 1950) at St Chad’s Church of England, Cremorne.

John became a director of the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co. Pty Ltd in 1947, and of Peko (Tennant Creek) Gold Mines N. L. in 1952. Appointed chairman of Newcastle Wallsend in 1950, and of Peko in 1960, he became chief executive and chairman of Peko-Wallsend Ltd after the companies amalgamated in 1961. In partnership with George Beattie Lean, the executive director, he expanded the company, which became one of the country’s foremost mining enterprises. He stressed the importance of exploration, investing significantly in this aspect of the firm’s operations, and was an early advocate of environmental management. From 1967 he was a member of the Australian Mining Industry Council.

In 1974 John resigned as chief executive of Peko-Wallsend, though he remained chairman until 1978 and a director until 1981. He was also a director of CSR Ltd (1974–79), and chairman of Electrical Equipment Ltd (1978–82), Oil Search Ltd (1978–82), and Oil Company of Australia N. L. (1979–83). Elected a member (1947) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, he was also a life member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. He was awarded the AusIMM medal in 1974 and was knighted in 1978.

A keen conservationist, patron of science, and benefactor, John helped to form Earthwatch Australia, was a trustee of the Australian Museum (1971–77), and the founding chairman of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation (1978–87). He was also a long-time supporter of his alma mater. In the 1960s he had opened his pastoral property, near Orange, to agricultural research by the university; he was a fellow of the senate (1974-83); and a driving force in establishing the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering on the campus. The university awarded him an honorary doctorate of engineering in 1984, and the Australian National University conferred an honorary doctorate of laws upon him in 1996.

Sir John was tall and slim, with a limp acquired from the injuries he suffered in 1937. He enjoyed yachting and farming as recreations. On 6 January 1964 he had married Loreen Batten, née Ferran, at the New Church, Sydney. He died on 7 October 1997 at Chatswood, survived by his wife, a stepdaughter, and a stepson, and was cremated. In 2007 he was inducted into the Australian Prospectors and Miners’ Hall of Fame. The Australian Museum’s Sir John Proud Aquarium system and the mineral proudite are named after him.

George, his younger brother, was born on 6 October 1910 at Burwood, Sydney. He attended Sydney Grammar School before joining the family profession. While travelling to England on holiday in early 1934, he met Eileen Edith Carpenter. Fijian-born, she was a daughter of the Pacific Islands merchant (Sir) Walter Carpenter. The couple married on 24 May that year at the register office, St Marylebone. A talented match play golfer at home, he competed in the British Open golf championship in June.

Returning to Australia, they settled in Killara, Sydney, and George became chairman and managing director of Proud’s Pty Ltd. He maintained the success of the company, later claiming that it ‘never failed to make a profit or pay a dividend even in the depression years’ (Duncan 1973, 94). After Proud’s merged with Edments Ltd to form Edments (Holdings) Ltd in 1951, he was appointed a director and deputy chairman of the new enterprise, as well as managing Proud’s, Dumbrells Jewellers Ltd, and T. Gaunt and Co.; he became chairman of Edments in 1952. He was president of the Retail Jewellers’ Association of New South Wales (1946–47); the Retail Traders’ Association of New South Wales (1965–67); and the Australian Council of Retailers (1966–67).

In 1971 Edments accepted a takeover bid from Hooker Corporation Ltd. George became frustrated by the direction set for Proud’s by the new parent company, which he saw as abandoning the business’s focus on quality products, and by the sale of its properties. The company’s reputation, which he considered had approached that of Tiffany and Co. or Cartier, was at stake: ‘we never sold rubbish’ (Duncan 1973, 94), he told a Sun-Herald reporter. Resigning as a director of Proud’s in September 1973, he bought Prouds (Fiji) Ltd—a subsidiary—from the Hooker Corporation, and formed Prouds Wholesale (Pacific Islands) Ltd.

Outside his business activities, George gave time to community service. He was honorary secretary (1948–50) and president (1952–53) of the Rotary Club of Sydney and governor of district 29 (1956–57), as well as being active in the Civic Reform Association. In 1964 he was appointed a cavaliere of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy and he was knighted in 1973. Sir George continued to play golf and also enjoyed fishing, boating, and bowls. Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he died of pneumonia on 12 May 1976 at Greenwich, and was cremated after a funeral at St Martin’s Anglican Church, Killara; his wife and their two daughters survived him.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Alafaci, Annette. ‘Proud, John Seymour (1907–1997).’ Encyclopedia of Australian Science, created 26 September 2006
  • last modified 7 February 2011. Accessed 20 May 2016. http://www.eoas.info/biogs/P004777b.htm. Copy held on ADB file
  • Chester, Quentin. ‘Survivor With a Vision: Sir John Proud.’ Australian Geographic, no. 27 (July–September 1992): 116–17
  • Dew, John M., comp. Mining People—A Century: Highlights of the First Hundred Years of the AusIMM 1893–1993. Parkville, Vic.: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, 1993
  • Duncan, Greg. ‘When the Property Developer Moves In It’s a Matter of Pride.’ Sun-Herald (Sydney), 23 September 1973, 94
  • J.C.G. ‘Sir John Proud 1907–1997.’ Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 130, nos. 3/4 (December 1997): 120–21
  • Retail Trader (Sydney). ‘Mr. George Proud.’ June 1965, 7
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Sir John Proud 1907–1997.’ 15 October 1997, 34
  • University of Sydney News. ‘Sir John Proud 1907–1997.’ 29, no. 28 (30 October 1997): 8

Additional Resources

Citation details

Karen Fox, 'Proud, Sir John Seymour (1907–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/proud-sir-john-seymour-30100/text37354, published online 2022, accessed online 8 October 2022.

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