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Sir Mark Sheldon (1871–1956)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Sir Mark Sheldon (1871-1956), businessman, was born on 13 November 1871 at Armidale, New South Wales, eldest of six children of William Sheldon, English-born medical practitioner, and his second wife Anna Theresa, née White, from Bathurst. Educated at Armidale until 11, then at Ushaw College, Durham, England, in 1890 he joined the merchants and shipping agents, Dalton Bros, as a junior in the counting-house. Rising through the wharfinger's office and the general merchandise branch, in 1896 he became general manager. On 26 October 1897 at St Mary's Church, North Sydney, he married Blanche Mary, daughter of his employer Thomas Dalton. After Dalton's death in 1901 the firm became a limited company with Sheldon as managing director (1902-56).

He soon extended his connexions. Moving in 1906 to Trahlee, Bellevue Hill, he was a member of the Union Club from 1907; managing-director Carmichael & Co. Ltd, paper merchants; chairman of Waterloo Glass Bottle Works Ltd (1910-15); a director from 1910 ('never ruffled' as chairman 1915-31) of the Australian Bank of Commerce; vice-president of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce (1916-19); a State executive member of the British Red Cross Society; and chairman of the State Repatriation Board (1917-19).

A prominent Catholic, in November 1917 Sheldon had been one of several laymen who asserted the righteousness of the war and repudiated Archbishop Mannix's alleged sympathy with Sinn Fein. In September 1918 he was on the executive committee of 'The King's Men', formed to 'fight disloyalists and pacifists'.

Patriotic, wealthy and having previously visited the United States of America, Sheldon was a logical choice to replace (Sir) Henry Braddon as Australian commissioner in New York, where he arrived in October 1919. In three years he travelled to forty-one States as a vigorous commercial agent, frequently airing his 'pronounced views about American-Australian co-operation'. He vainly attempted to upgrade his position to diplomatic status ('partly so that he could import liquor during Prohibition'). Briefly in Australia in January 1922, en route to London, he arbitrated between the Commonwealth and Messrs Kidman and Mayoh in a dispute over a contract to build wooden steamers, finding for the Commonwealth. In September he joined the Australian delegation to the League of Nations in Geneva, where he was prominent in debate. He returned to Sydney on completing his appointment in January 1923. Knighted in June 1922, he was appointed K.B.E. in June 1924. In March 1925 he represented Australia on the Imperial Economic Committee.

In the 1920s Sir Mark's business directorates increased to include the Distributors' Co-operative Co. of New South Wales and Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd and in 1930-40 he was chairman of Tooheys Ltd. He was a council-member of the Commonwealth's Bureau of Commerce and Industry and president (1923-25) of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia. When the Anthony Hordern family sold its business for £2,900,000 (then Australia's largest company sale) Sheldon headed the purchasing company and was chairman of Anthony Hordern & Sons Ltd in 1926-40. An advocate of universal adoption of the metric system of weights and measures, in 1935 he was included by Rydge's in a series on 'Men who control Australian business'.

Sheldon's sister Mary (1876-1954) had entered the Order of the Sacred Heart in 1898, taught at convents in Sydney and Melbourne and was mother superior from 1913 at Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1917-54—including during World War II—in Tokyo and Obayashi (near Kobe), Japan. From 1926 she was provincial for the Far East. During her term her order's schools and tertiary institution developed into one of Japan's most distinguished universities for women. Sir Mark and his wife were generous benefactors of the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Rose Bay (where Lady Sheldon was educated), and Sancta Sophia College (University of Sydney) on whose council Sir Mark served in 1929-55. In 1929 he was made papal knight commander of the Order of St Gregory. Survived by his wife, one of their three daughters and two sons, he died at Lewisham on 13 October 1956 and was buried in South Head cemetery after a requiem Mass at St Mary's Cathedral. His estate was sworn for probate at £136,282.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Percy-Dove, Mother Mary Sheldon (Brighton, Eng, 1962?)
  • Australian and New Zealand Studies Association, Pacific Circle 2, N. Harper ed (Brisb, 1972)
  • Newspaper News, 2 Sept 1929
  • Rydge's Business Journal, 1 Apr 1935, p 267
  • Historical Studies, no 60, Apr 1973, p 612
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 19, 23 Nov 1917
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Sept 1918, 21 Aug 1920, 4 Jan, 3 June, 14, 18 Sept 1922, 3 June 1924, 25 Feb 1925
  • Bulletin, 29 Apr 1926
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 18 Oct 1956
  • A 663, 0 130/2/881, A 2483, B 18/7720 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Sheldon, Sir Mark (1871–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 April 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 November, 1871
Armidale, New South Wales, Australia


13 October, 1956 (aged 84)
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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