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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Yencken, Edward Lowenstern (1854–1932)

by Stuart Sayers

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Edward Lowenstern Yencken (1854-1932), merchant, was born on 13 February 1854 at Brixton, Surrey, England, son of Edward Ferdinand Yencken, merchant, and his wife Ellen, née Druce. Young Edward attended school at Shrewsbury and, after his family arrived in Victoria, completed his education at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. In 1871 he joined the Melbourne branch of the Bank of New South Wales, but next year removed to Brooks, Robinson & Co., wholesale oil, colour and glass merchants and importers of painters' and decorators' supplies, thus entering the trade he would eventually dominate. On 24 January 1882 at All Saints Anglican Church, St Kilda, he married English-born Florence Orr. That year, after reaching managerial level at Brooks Robinson, he decided to found his own business: he returned to England for ten months to establish connexions with British and European manufacturers, and to establish a buying office at 9 New Broad Street, London.

In January 1883 E. L. Yencken & Co., wholesale importers and general indent merchants, opened for business at 3 Flinders Street, Melbourne, sharing 'a handsome building on a bluestone foundation, having cellars and three floors above' with the tea merchants, Griffiths Bros. Unlike many of his older competitors, Yencken was reputed to have begun with 'a large capital'. His business expanded rapidly and survived the loss in May 1885 of goods worth £70,000 in a sensational fire. By 1888 the firm had two adjoining city warehouses and a large store by the Yarra River. Its warehouses were equipped with 'every modern labour-saving applicance', including hydraulic lifts connecting with an iron tramway which delivered goods to their entrances.

Yencken gradually absorbed the business of his main competitors, including that of Brooks Robinson. In 1892 the firm became a limited liability company and by the turn of the century Yencken was honoured as 'father' of the Melbourne trade. The business moved to Little Collins Street in 1904 and shifted from the city to South Melbourne after World War II. A noted member of the Yorick Club from 1903, Yencken enjoyed golf and gardening. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, he died on 7 September 1932 at his Toorak home and was buried in St Kilda cemetery; his estate was sworn for probate at £11,863.

His younger son Arthur Ferdinand (1894-1944) was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (B.A., 1919). Enlisting in the British Army in August 1914, he became a major in the artillery and was awarded the Military Cross. After World War I he joined the Foreign Office and rose to be British minister in Madrid. In 1941 he was appointed C.M.G. Arthur Yencken died on 18 May 1944 in an air crash south of Barcelona, Spain.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • T. Carrington and D. Watterson, The Yorick Club (Melb, 1911)
  • Australian Storekeepers and Traders Journal, 23 Dec 1910, 31 Jan 1911
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1932
  • Times (London), 20 May 1944.

Citation details

Stuart Sayers, 'Yencken, Edward Lowenstern (1854–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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