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Sir David Storey (1856–1924)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

David Storey (1856-1924), by unknown photographer, 1920

David Storey (1856-1924), by unknown photographer, 1920

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 13997

Sir David Storey (1856-1924), businessman and politician, was born on 18 August 1856 at Aughagaw, Tydavnet, Monaghan, Ireland, son of Robert Storey, farmer, and his wife Margaret, née Colvin. Educated at Wattsbridge Academy, at 14 he was apprenticed for five years to James Hartley, woollen draper at Cavan, and later worked for Robert Lindsay & Co., Belfast. Attracted by the Sydney International Exhibition, Storey reached Sydney in November 1879 and was employed by Ross, Morgan & Robertson, warehousemen. In mid-1881 he set up his own premises with £10,000 credit and supplies from James Lindsay of Belfast. On the dissolution of their partnership in 1883, he established David Storey & Co., softgoods warehousemen and importers of hats, shirts and mercery, in Barrack Street. He married Rachel Agnes Doig (d.1940) on 4 July 1883 with Presbyterian forms in Sydney.

Having been his own commercial traveller in the early 1880s, he became president of the Commercial Travellers' Association of New South Wales in 1893. In 1896 he acquired a large building in York Street, next year he established an agency in London and by 1907 he had opened a branch in Brisbane. The firm also manufactured several varieties of popular hats. Believing in co-operation between capital and labour, he was fair and generous to his employees.

Although a political novice, he challenged (Sir) Edmund Barton for the Legislative Assembly seat of Randwick in July 1894. Campaigning for free trade and against Federation, Storey won Randwick and held it until 1920. In the 1890s he was honorary secretary of the Freetrade, Land and Reform League and later treasurer of the Liberal Party; he refused office in the Lyne and Carruthers ministries in 1899 and 1904 for party and business reasons. A picturesque and colourful speaker with flashes of 'twinkling humour', he was known as 'King David' or 'the Duke of York-street'.

Independent-minded, Storey preferred the cross benches: he disliked (Sir) Charles Wade's 'one-man government', deploring his tactics in the elections of October 1910 as well as the 'machine politics' of Labor. He held Randwick as an Independent and led a group of seven rebels. When Labor began introducing what he termed 'offensive legislation', Storey rejoined the Liberals. During World War I he addressed recruiting meetings and later campaigned for conscription: three of his four sons were serving with the Australian Imperial Force.

After Labor split over conscription Storey helped to form the National Party (claiming to have named it) and in November 1916 accepted office under W. A. Holman as an honorary minister. Storey acted as minister for public health from July to December 1917. Next February with (Sir) George Beeby he resigned over Teesdale Smith's wheat silo contract, but relented when agreed safeguards were included. As minister for public health from 18 July 1919, Storey did much to put the hospitals on a sounder footing. Late in January 1920 he resigned his portfolio and seat; he had refused to accept any ministerial salary. Nominated to the Legislative Council on 4 February 1920, he was knighted in 1923.

After the war Storey believed in the importance of Empire preference and implacably refused to trade with Germany. He was chairman of the Insurance Office of Australia Ltd, and with his sons invested in pastoral property near Yass and in Queensland. A Freemason, he was president and a 'leading spirit' of the Ulster Association of New South Wales and a council-member of the Millions Club and the British Empire League. He belonged to the Athenaeum, New South Wales, Masonic and Australian Jockey clubs.

From the 1880s the Storeys lived at Sherbrooke House, Randwick. A devoted family man, David was an elder of the local Presbyterian Church and foundation president of the Bronte Surf Bathing Association (1907); he played bowls and regularly attended the annual Rifle Club dinner; as a director of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children from 1903, he took a keen interest in its Randwick asylum. He was 5 ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, with blue eyes and a square chin, and habitually covered his bald pate with a top hat. Dubbed 'the smiling Irishman' by George Black, he 'had a helping hand for everyone'. His wife was a foundation executive-member of the State division British Red Cross Society in 1914 and foundation president of the Randwick branch for fifteen years; she started home nursing classes, was president of the Forum Club and worked for the Royal Empire Society and Victoria League.

Sir David died of pneumonia at his Randwick home on 27 July 1924 and was buried in South Head cemetery; the cortège was followed by 111 cars. His wife, daughter and four sons survived him and inherited his estate, valued for probate at £59,106. The Bulletin concluded that Storey 'was no statesman, but he was a great hand at making friends and keeping them'.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader (Syd, 1945)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1924, p 636
  • Fighting Line, 19 July 1913
  • Australian National Review, 18 Jan 1923, 18 Aug 1924
  • Bulletin, 21 Jan 1924
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 June 1894, 11 July, 21 Oct 1910, 1 Nov 1911, 6 July 1914, 11 Dec 1918, 15 Apr 1921, 28 July 1924
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Nov 1910, 27 June 1911, 6 June, 23 Dec 1912, 10 Nov 1915, 19 Aug, 16 Oct 1916, 18 Jan, 3 Dec 1917, 18 July, 28 Oct 1919, 30 Jan, 11 Mar, 25 May 1920, 1 Jan 1923, 28, 29 July 1924, 29 Apr 1940
  • Evening News (Sydney), 28 July 1924
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Storey, Sir David (1856–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 April 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

David Storey (1856-1924), by unknown photographer, 1920

David Storey (1856-1924), by unknown photographer, 1920

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 13997

Life Summary [details]


18 August, 1856
Tydavnet, Monaghan, Ireland


27 July, 1924 (aged 67)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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