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Sir Gordon Burns Rolph (1893–1959)

by S. M. Dent

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William Robert Rolph

Sir William Robert Rolph (1864-1948) and Sir Gordon Burns Rolph (1893-1959), newspaper proprietors, were father and son. William was born on 26 March 1864 at Carrick, Tasmania, only surviving son of Daniel Rolph, licensee of the Prince of Wales Hotel, and his wife Henrietta Louisa, née Ives. Educated at Launceston, he worked for (Sir Adye) Douglas & (G. T.) Collins, solicitors, and then for the mercantile firm Dalgetty, Moore (later Du Croz, Smith) & Co. About 1886, after selling a Cleveland hotel inherited earlier from his uncle William Rolph Thornell, he left Tasmania for mercantile employment in Queensland and Sydney.

A competent violinist, Rolph subsequently travelled to London with his sister Ada (later Madame Senac), but eye trouble compelled him to abandon his intention of studying music there. On 30 January 1892 at St Marylebone Parish Church he married Emily Jane Bickell (d.1936), returning with her to Launceston where he became chief clerk in the Railway Department. About 1897, after a brief mining and sharebroking partnership with Edward Sheargold, he became a public accountant and trade trustee in partnership with fellow violin enthusiast Alexander T. Young.

In November 1897 Rolph and Young became associated with the Launceston Examiner whose proprietor Henry Button retired next year. Rolph and Button were members of the same Congregational church. It was not, however, until 12 May 1914 (the day after Button's death) that Rolph's name was printed, as publisher, in the colophon of the Examiner. In 1916, when Young retired, the firm became W. R. Rolph & Sons. Under Rolph's direction the Examiner published the Weekly Courier in 1901-35 and established the Saturday Evening Express in 1924 and the commercial radio station 7EX in 1938.

Rolph retained his interest in music: he was a foundation member (1903) of the Launceston Literary and Musical Competitions Association, a member of the advisory committee of the Australian Music Examinations Board and vice-president of four Launceston bands. He was also vice-president of the Australian Provincial Press Association and at various times a committee-member of the Tasmanian Permanent Executors and Trustees Association Ltd, Equitable Building Society, Launceston Public Library, Royal Society of Tasmania (northern branch), Overseas League, Launceston General Hospital and Tasmanian Automobile Club. A slightly built man, once keen on boxing, lacrosse and swimming, he helped to inaugurate the 'Learn to Swim' campaign.

Rolph died at his home Strathairlie, Launceston, on 23 January 1948, survived by three sons and a daughter. The Examiner editorial mourned him as a man 'who always followed the dictates of a gentle nature and a kind heart'.

Gordon Rolph was born at Launceston on 28 January 1893. Educated at Scotch College, Launceston, and Leslie House, Hobart, he afterwards gained experience in all aspects of the Examiner's work before joining his father in its management. He was assistant manager when on 16 November 1918 at Longford Presbyterian Church he married Dorothy Hope Hardman. A more burly figure than his father, he was a member of the Volunteer Artillery Regiment but asthma prevented his serving in World War I.

Eventually Rolph became general manager, then chairman and managing director and finally governing director of W. R. Rolph & Sons. His interest in newspapers extended further. He was president of the Australian Provincial Press Association (1942-51), chairman of directors of the Australian Provincial Daily Press (1948-56), and delegate to four Imperial Press conferences—London in 1930 and 1946, Canada in 1950 and Australia in 1955. In 1940 he was State president of the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations. Appointed O.B.E. in 1942 and C.M.G. in 1946, he was knighted in 1948.

Rolph was also chief executive of the Tasmanian Executors and Trustees Association Pty Ltd, Equitable Building Society, Walpamur Co. (Aust.) Ltd, Cleanquick Pty Ltd, Tip Top Paints (Aust.), Tamar Services Pty Ltd, Tasmanian Softwoods Pty Ltd and United Dairies and Cool Stores of Tasmania.

His support of various community organizations encompassed the Launceston Chamber of Commerce (president, 1933-37 and 1944-50), Federated Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire (delegate, 1930), Launceston Rotary Club (foundation secretary 1924, and president 1932-33), Royal Commonwealth Society (president 1937) and Royal Society of St George (foundation president and later patron). An extra-territorial justice of the peace, he was president of the Honorary Justices' Association of Tasmania in 1944-50 and patron until his death. He was president of the National Agricultural and Pastoral Society in 1952-54, vice-patron of the Launceston War Memorial Community Centre Association and in 1933-50 served on the Launceston General Hospital board. Concerned for disadvantaged children, he was vice-president of the Society for the Care of Crippled Children and a trustee of the Northern Tasmanian Home for Boys.

Rolph was a keen sportsman, participating in running and swimming in his younger days, golf, boating and fishing later when he spent leisurely holidays at his Richmond Hill home, Como. A Freemason, a past master of the Lodge of Hope, he belonged to the Launceston, Northern and Tasmanian clubs and the Athenaeum Club in Melbourne.

Sir Gordon died of cerebral haemorrhage at Launceston on 23 March 1959, survived by his wife and three daughters and leaving an estate valued for probate in 1969 at $255,146.

Select Bibliography

  • Examiner (Launceston), 24, 26 Jan 1948, 24, 25 Mar 1959.

Citation details

S. M. Dent, 'Rolph, Sir Gordon Burns (1893–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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