Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Grafton Ross (1834–1906)

by A. G. Lowndes

This article was published:

Joseph Grafton Ross (1834-1906), company manager and director, was born on 9 June 1834 at Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England, son of Rev. Robert Ross and his second wife Sarah, née Grafton. Ross reached Sydney with his family on 25 February 1840 in the Earl Grey. His father took charge of the Pitt Street Congregational Church and became a close friend of David Jones and John Fairfax.

In 1850 Ross joined the Australasian Sugar Co. as a junior clerk under the manager, Edward Knox. When the company went into liquidation and Knox founded the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. on 1 January 1855, he became secretary and manager. With Knox's full confidence Ross was left in charge of the company during his visits overseas. He worked very long hours supervising the buying of overseas sugar and selling the company's refined sugar, the purchase and installation of new equipment and the activities of the technical staff. He showed special competence in financial control and spent much time at the new sugar mills on the northern rivers of New South Wales. He combined hard-headed business methods with the very strict standards of his religious upbringing. In 1870 he became first general manager of the company and in 1878-80 was a director.

On 29 March 1855 at the Pitt Street Congregational Church he had married Emily, only daughter of John Fairfax, who bore him a son and two daughters. On 28 October 1871 she was killed when she jumped from her father's runaway carriage. Ross became prominent in commercial and charitable circles. In the 1870s he was chairman of the Trade Protection Society of New South Wales, a director of the Australian Gaslight Co., the Mercantile Bank of Sydney and the Australian General Assurance Co. and served on the committee of the Chamber of Commerce. Already a director of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, in 1868 he was a convener of the public meeting that resolved to found a hospital in thanksgiving for the recovery of the Duke of Edinburgh. He was honorary secretary of the Prince Alfred Hospital Committee and later a director of the hospital. He also served on the committees of the Sydney Ragged Schools, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Charity Organization Society and the National Shipwreck Relief Society of New South Wales. A member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1865, he was a committee member of the Union Club and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and honorary treasurer of the Rifle Association.

In 1879 Ross resigned from the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. though the directors tried to dissuade him. In March 1880 he returned to England and never came back to Australia. When E. W. Knox was in London in 1887 he consulted Ross who successfully advised him that the company should limit its liability before issuing debentures or increasing its capital. Ross married a widow, Joanna Trotter Crawley, whom he had known in Australia. They made several visits to Europe and one to the United States and lived at such fashionable spas as Cheltenham and Bournemouth. Ross died at his home, Foxcote, Bournemouth, on 4 July 1906. His estate in New South Wales, valued for probate at £43,000, was left to his surviving daughter, the widow and children of his son and his 'much loved stepson', F. H. Crawley.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1859-60, 2, 914, 1872-73, 2, 1227
  • Empire (Sydney), 31 Oct 1871
  • Material on the Ross and Jones families (microfilm FM4/2271, State Library of New South Wales)
  • family papers (privately held)
  • Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

A. G. Lowndes, 'Ross, Joseph Grafton (1834–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 June, 1834
Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England


4 July, 1906 (aged 72)
Bournemouth, Dorset, England

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