John Benn

John Benn 1821 – 1895

Co-owner of Coolart with Theodutus John Sumner from 1862 to 1875

John Benn, businessman, was baptized on 19 March 1821 at Corney, near Bootle, Cumberland, England, the youngest son of William Benn, yeoman of Middleton Place, and his wife Mary, née Smith. He had some business training in Liverpool and in 1849 sailed to Port Phillip where he joined Charles Heep in his grocery business. In 1855 Benn visited England and on his return in 1856 joined Grice, Sumner & Co., wholesale dealers in teas and sugars, soon became senior partner and remained so until his death. He was associated with other businesses and, respected for his integrity and tact, was chairman of many company boards including those of the British and Australasian Trust and Loan Co., the Trustees Executors and Agency Co., the Agency Land and Finance Co., the Commercial Union Insurance Co. and the Melbourne Meat Preserving Co. He was also on the Union Bank board and twice president of the Chamber of Commerce. Eager for efficient street lighting, Benn was an original director of the City of Melbourne Gas and Coke Co. In 1877 he brought about the amalgamation of that company with the Collingwood and the South Suburban gas companies, forming the Metropolitan Gas Co., of which he was chairman of directors from 1878 until 1895. He was especially active in management between 1888 and 1892 when Melbourne’s expansion strained the resources of the company to the utmost.

In July 1866 Benn gave evidence before the royal commission on uncollected customs duties, but he had no desire to enter the parliamentary or municipal worlds and as one of his few hobbies bred Shorthorn cattle. In 1865 he began a stud at Mount Derrimut near Melbourne. He imported cattle from British herds and later had another stud at Coolart, Balnarring, a property which he ran as a model farm. His other pastoral interests included Bagilborie station on the Namoi River, New South Wales, and Monavale in the Waikato district of New Zealand.

Benn died on 9 February 1895 at Waratah, Clendon Road, Toorak. He had been in poor health for some time and his determination to attend a Metropolitan Gas Co. board meeting proved fatal. He was survived by his wife, Adelaide Jane Elizabeth, née Walker, of Hobart; they were childless.

(Published Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 3, 1969)