Royal Reels: Gambling


This unpretentious commercial postcard introduces a man of some substance, in more ways than one. His life takes him from Wild Duck Creek, near Heathcote, Victoria to London and finally to Mosman, N.S.W. The Private Post Card , Issued by the Postmaster-General of New South Wales was sent from Arthur Cocks & Co., Wholesale Opticians, 3 Wynyard Street, Sydney to Mr. Collins, Chemist, Gunning (N.S.W.). The red 1d ‘Shield of N.S.W.’ stamp (which has a private perfin ‘A C’) was postmarked with a duplex SYDNEY/ OC 13/ 8 30-PM/ 98/ 41. The reverse was of no interest and had no postmark (Figure 1).

Sir Arthur Alfred Clement Cocks, merchant and politician, was born on 27 May 1862 at Wild Duck Creek, Heathcote, Victoria, fourth son of English parents Thomas Cocks, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth. Arthur was educated at a state school at Richmond and started work at 14 in a softgoods warehouse. About 1880 he joined W. Wood & Co., wholesale opticians, and became a commercial traveller. On 17 September 1884 at Richmond he married Elizabeth Agnes Gibb. In 1886 he was sent to Sydney to establish a branch of the firm. He gradually gained financial control and in 1899 registered his own firm, Arthur Cocks & Co., wholesale jewellers and opticians; he remained managing director until 1939. In 1911 the company was reconstructed and by 1914 he had set up branches in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Cocks became active in commercial circles, as a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales and was a director of the City Bank of Sydney. In 1916-18 Cocks was president of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. He was several times chairman of the Importers’ Association of New South Wales, and in 1940 he was first president of the new Wholesale Importers’ Association. He contributed to the standardization of optometry in New South Wales. Cocks had represented Lang Ward on the Sydney Municipal Council in 1906-14 and was Lord Mayor in 1913. He was elected as a Liberal to the Legislative Assembly, for St Leonards, in October 1910 and held the seat as a Nationalist from 1917 until 1920; in 1920-25 he was a member for North Sydney. In the House he showed particular interest in the development of Sydney and the growth of its industry and commerce.

From early 1923 Cocks had hinted he would not stand at the next election. He was knighted K.B.E. in June and next year there was speculation about his possible nomination to the Legislative Council, but he resigned on 14 February 1925 and became agent-general in London. Melbourne Punch, 5 February 1925, approved of his appointment because ‘this large, silent, slow-moving man with the dim eyes, the big head, and poker face leaves nothing whatever to chance’. While in London he was executive commissioner at the British Empire Exhibition. Cocks resigned on 17 September after Premier John Lang had attacked him in the House. Lang later alleged that as treasurer Cocks ‘had faked the public accounts’. On his return to Australia in December, Sir Arthur expressed his disgust with public life.

A leading Congregational layman, deacon, lay preacher and Sunday school superintendent, Cocks consistently contributed to charities. His appeals for film censorship and temperance seemed incongruous with his film business interests and persistent cigar-smoking habits. He lent members of his staff the money to buy their houses and during the Depression often called at needy homes with boxes of groceries. Cocks was very much a family man.. Afflicted by blindness and bronchitis, he died at Mosman on 25 April 1943 and was buried in the Northern Suburbs cemetery. He was predeceased by his wife, son and daughter. A photo of the substantial Sir Arthur Cocks, probably as Lord Mayor of Sydney, is seen in Figure 2.

The text and Figure 2 are extracted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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