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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nock, Thomas (1860–1951)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Thomas Nock (1860-1951), ironmonger, was born on 21 February 1860 at Newtown, Sydney, son of Edward Nock, baker from Bristol, England, and his wife Mary Anne, née Lynch. Educated at the William Street Public School, Tommy started work for Frederick Felton, ironmonger, of George Street, in January 1873. His alacrity as an errand-boy soon earned him promotion to a position at the counter. At St Philip's Anglican Church he married Eliza Jane Simmonds, daughter of a mariner, on 18 January 1883. Felton recognized Nock's ability and in 1884 offered him a partnership.

By 1890 Felton & Nock boasted capital of £10,000 and had opened branches in Erskine Street and at North Sydney. Their premises at Circular Quay were adversely affected by the maritime strike of 1890 and the financial panic of 1891-93. In November 1894 Nock acquired the business and a partner, Herbert Kirby (1871-1954), an English migrant who had served an apprenticeship to an Ipswich ironmonger and arrived in Sydney in 1889.

Nock & Kirby gradually expanded their business premises at 194 George Street and in November 1906 became a limited liability company, with a capital of £20,000; both were appointed permanent directors (each holding 5000 £1 shares), with Nock as chairman. The capital base was increased to £50,000 in 1911 with the creation of 30,000 £1 shares and doubled in 1918 with the building of palatial new premises on the George Street North site, complete with roof-garden and dining hall. 'The store with everything' sold pots, pans, sewing machines, clothing, building requisites, even go-karts. Profitability varied greatly from a net profit of £1054 in 1906 to £31,003 in 1920, representing an 8 per cent return on capital. By 1923 the firm had over 500 employees and a capital of £127,000. Five of Nock's children and Kirby's eldest son Herbert were involved in the business and assumed increasing responsibility.

Thomas's eldest son Harold, managing director, died in 1925, and his youngest son (Sir) Norman, the firm's London representative, took over. He foresaw the changing pattern of retailing in Sydney and chose the site of F. Lassetter & Co. Ltd's hardware store, almost equidistant between Wynyard and Town Hall stations. In October 1933, when Nock & Kirby opened its lavish new store, one-fifth of Sydney's workers were still unemployed, but Norman Nock was convinced that the coming revival in the building industry would benefit a firm specializing in hardware. The firm lost over £10,000 in 1931 and over £5000 in 1932 but by 1934 showed a profit of almost £4000. That year Thomas Nock and Herbert Kirby had a bitter disagreement about their respective rights and responsibilities. A memorandum of 9 October directed that neither was to exercise any of the special powers of permanent directors, including decisions about loans or advances, without the approval of the board.

Survived by three sons and two daughters, Thomas Nock died on 29 August 1951 at his Killara home and was cremated after a service at St Philip's Anglican Church. His estate was valued for probate at £75,734. Nock & Kirby had become a household name in New South Wales, synonymous with hardware and household requisites; the firm was listed on the stock exchange in 1954-55 and continued to expand until taken over in 1983 by Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales, Journal, Dec 1923, July 1933
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Feb 1923, 8 June 1925, 5 Oct 1933, 13 Mar 1954, 13 May 1983
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 Mar, 1 Dec 1923
  • Sun (Sydney), 31 Oct 1972
  • Nock & Kirby records (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Nock, Thomas (1860–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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