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Gow, Robert Milne (1868–1948)

by A. L. Lougheed

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Robert Milne Gow (1868-1948), businessman, was born on 9 April 1868 at Newcastle, New South Wales, son of Scottish-born James Falconer Gow, saddler, and his wife Jane Strachan Dickson, née Barry, from Manchester, England. Educated at Newcastle Public School, he began his commercial career with Frank Gardiner, insurance and shipping agent of Newcastle; in 1888 he transferred to (F. A.) Wright Heaton & Co. Ltd. After a short period in their Sydney office he went to Brisbane in 1897 to manage the Queensland branch. Recognizing the opportunities for enterprise in Brisbane, he left Wright Heaton in 1900 to open his own business on the corner of Edward and Mary streets as a customs agent, carrier, mercantile broker and produce merchant. Starting with three employees, Gow quickly obtained the Queensland distribution rights of Arnott's biscuits and Foster Clark products. He arranged the first shipment of Queensland wheat to England in August 1904 in the Banffshire. By 1912, as a large shipper of butter and frozen products to Britain, Gow was a strong advocate of improved shipping facilities for Brisbane. In 1901 he took a partner, E. C. Chambers, but bought him out in 1909.

The firm prospered and spread its activities across the wholesale merchandizing of foods and household requisites. Before R. M. Gow & Co. Ltd became a private company in 1921, Gow's four sons had joined the firm but he remained as governing director until his death. In 1926 the firm began manufacturing the 'Gold Crest' range of food products; the name was derived from the golden crest on the family emblem. Despite the many problems of the depressed 1930s, the firm continued to prosper. Gow was able to enlarge sales by introducing an ingenious system of marginal cost pricing; in 1938 it celebrated its first annual turnover exceeding £1 million. After becoming a public company in March 1951, the firm expanded considerably. Much of its success was due to the enterprising founder who was always ready to undertake new ventures. Those family members who succeeded him shared his attitude.

A member of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce for many years and its president in 1926-27, Gow was also well respected as a sportsman. A keen golfer and yachtsman and a patron of the Queensland Game Fishing Association, he had represented Queensland in both Rugby Union and bowls. On 27 April 1892, at Newcastle, he had married Agnes Mary Jones. When he died on 20 May 1948 at Gowanbrae, his Hamilton home, he left his sons in charge of the firm. His estate was valued for probate at £47,389. He was buried in Toowong cemetery with Congregational forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 21 May 1948
  • Australian Financial Review, 30 Apr 1981
  • Gow family records.

Citation details

A. L. Lougheed, 'Gow, Robert Milne (1868–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/gow-robert-milne-6440/text11019, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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