Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir John Soundy (1878–1960)

by J. Soundy

This article was published:

Sir John Soundy (1878-1960), retailer, politician and mayor, was born on 14 November 1878 at Dorchester, England, son of Joshua Tovell Soundy, draper and clothier, and his wife Elizabeth, née Johnson. Arriving in Hobart with his family, John was educated at the Friends' School in 1887-93 and later farmed at Sassafras in north-west Tasmania. He moved to South Africa in 1903, becoming a sanitary inspector in Cape Town and in 1906 a food and dairy inspector at Bloemfontein. Returning to Tasmania, he ran a shop at Queenstown in 1907 and in 1913 moved to Hobart to manage his father's drapery store. When the business was incorporated in 1939 he took over as managing director, a position he held until his death.

His career in public life was long and varied. He was appointed coroner at Queenstown in 1909, a justice of the peace in 1918 and was an alderman of the Hobart City Council in 1917-34 and 1938-50. Mayor of Hobart in 1924, 1929 and 1930-32, he was lord mayor in 1938-46. Soundy sat in the Tasmanian House of Assembly as Liberal member for Denison in 1925-46 and in the Legislative Council in 1946-52. In the Upper House he served as deputy president and chairman of committees.

A deeply committed Christian and a member of the Hobart Baptist Church for over sixty years, he served as secretary for thirty years and as a deacon and life deacon. He was also a serving brother of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and a member of Rotary International. During World War II he chaired the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Comforts Fund. He was, as well, a keen sportsman, fond of fishing, shooting and bowls. As a sporting administrator, he served as president and patron of the Derwent Bowls Club and treasurer of the Southern Hockey Association. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1943 and knighted in 1954.

During the 1930s Depression and World War II, he was influential in the area of economic policy and contributed to the improvement of public health, transport facilities and urban reserves. A champion of the underprivileged, he fought for the provision and upgrading of public housing. As an employer he introduced profit-sharing with his workers: J. T. Soundy Pty Ltd was one of the first Tasmanian firms to offer a superannuation scheme to its staff.

Tall, slim, fair, clean-shaven and bespectacled, Soundy was respected for his sincerity, integrity and serenity. His deep religious convictions influenced his personal and public life. He spoke his mind without fear or favour and his stubborn adherence to his views often infuriated his opponents. He was widely liked by the community and was said never to have lost an election he contested. Quiet, temperate and sober, he was unostentatious and even-tempered, with a good sense of humour.

In Cape Town he had married Edith Wainwright (d.1958) on 1 April 1907. They had five daughters and two sons, one of whom, John Trevor, was killed in action in World War II while serving with the Royal Australian Air Force. Sir John Soundy died on 25 October 1960 in Hobart and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • B. G. Murphy, The Parliament of Tasmania 1856-1973 (Hob, 1973)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 15 July, 23 Sept 1919, 19 Oct 1920, 13 May 1929, 1 May 1934, 26 Oct 1960
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

J. Soundy, 'Soundy, Sir John (1878–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 November, 1878
Dorchester, Dorset, England


25 October, 1960 (aged 81)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.