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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Penfold, William Clark (1864–1945)

by G. P. Walsh

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

William Clark Penfold (1864-1945), printer and stationer, was born on 23 June 1864 at Paddington, Sydney, eldest son of Edwin Thomas Penfold (d.1900), tobacco merchant, and his wife Susannah (d.1918), née Clark. Edwin had arrived in New South Wales in 1853 and, after working on the goldfields, established a successful tobacco business in Sydney. Selling out to Thomas Saywell in March 1874, he took his wife and family to England for three years. On their return in May 1878 the family lived at Burwood. William completed his education at Sydney Grammar School.

In June 1880 Penfold was indentured for five years to Turner & Henderson, booksellers and stationers, of Hunter Street, Sydney. In 1886 with £2000 borrowed from his father he bought from Thomas Yeo the stock and goodwill of William Moffitt's printing and stationery firm in Pitt Street, established in 1830, which he renamed W. C. Penfold & Co. In 1888 he took his brother Frederick Edwin (1865-1952) into partnership. His father's loan at 6 per cent continued to be important in financing the business for some years. On 6 March 1894 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Phillip Street, he married Janet McAlpine Macredie.

From 1887 with the addition of a stone flat-bed lithographic printing machine, Penfold quickly modernized his plant, beginning the tradition of regularly updating equipment to compete with such rivals as John Sands and Edwards, Dunlop & Co. Ltd. In 1898 the first linotype machine was installed and printing operations included catalogues and a countryman's newspaper, the Australian Field. In 1902 Penfolds entered book production and in 1904-23 printed many notable titles for Angus & Robertson, including C. J. Dennis's The Sentimental Bloke (1914) and Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding (1918).

In 1912 Penfolds had acquired the eight-storey Hosking House in Hosking Place for a new printery and in April 1914 W. C. Penfold & Co. was re-formed with a capital of £125,000 to replace the partnership. In the 1920s the company described itself as 'printers, stationers and systematists' and expanded into the growing packaging industry, especially for Nestlé Co. (Australia) Ltd. In 1925 W. C. Penfold & Co. (Investments) was created; the trading company was again restructured in 1926 and renamed W. C. Penfold & Co. Pty Ltd in 1937.

Conservative in both his business and personal life, Penfold was even tempered and punctilious—routine played an important part in his life. His daily walk through the factory kept him in touch with his employees and helped to maintain efficiency; his personal interest in his staff was rewarded by loyalty, dedication and a tradition of long service within the firm. He was a founder, committee-member from 1892, president in 1924-28, and trustee of the State branch of the Master Printers' and Connected Trades Association, and worked for the federation of the industry. He was also a director of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales and a foundation member of the Killara and Avondale Golf clubs.

Survived by his wife, a son and two daughters, Penfold died at his Turramurra home on 15 November 1945 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. He had been active chairman of directors until a week before his death. His estate was valued for probate at £66,049. Penfold's, 'the House of Quality', is one of the largest firms of its kind in Australia; its famous horse and cart, which was reintroduced during petrol rationing after World War II, is still a familiar and popular sight in Sydney's central business district.

Select Bibliography

  • W. C. Penfold & Co. Ltd, A Century of Progress in Printing (Syd, 1930)
  • S. Coupe, W. C. Penfold, Printer and Stationer, 1830-1980 (Syd, 1980)
  • Newspaper News, 15 Dec 1945
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Feb 1923, 30 June 1926, 18 June 1931, 20 Nov 1945, 24 Aug 1983, 1 Dec 1984.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Penfold, William Clark (1864–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/penfold-william-clark-8014/text13967, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 28 October 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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