Memoirs

Jack Bryson, An Uneducated Man

The founder of Jaguar cars in Australia was Jack Bryson. He died of a stroke in Melbourne in 1971. Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons bought space in Australian newspapers for a tribute:I have not had the pleasure of knowing many Australians but I have been fortunate enough to have had a close business and personal relationship with Mr Jack Bryson for the past 30 years. He was a man of outstanding integrity. His friendliness and desire to help others was a characteristic which singled him out amongst other men. He possessed, in full measure the shrewdness and capacity for hard work. His contribution to the growth of British car sales, and of Jaguar in particular, was very considerable indeed, and in his passing Britain has lost one of its most devoted and loyal supporters.

Sir William Lyons left, Jack Bryson Right.
Sir William Lyons left, Jack Bryson right.

The Death Certificate shows his name as John Barron Bryson.

His Birth Certificate issued in Timaru New Zealand records him as Trevor Raymond Barron. Rather than a foundling, he was a giftling. Born out of wedlock to Ada Morton, young daughter of an English settler in New Zealand, he was farmed out to a Maori housekeeper, Ruby Barron, probably of the Ngai Tahu clan, family Mahitena. For the first decade of this life he believed he was a Maori boy. Strong loyalties remained in train here, although he was not related to the Barron family he never relinquished the name.

The Morton family moved to Melbourne and his mother Ada recalled him. He travelled from Sydney to Melbourne by train but would not leave his room in the Morton household so was returned to Ruby Barron, now in Sydney, thence again to New Zealand.

This family moved to Auckland where he was educated by Christian Brothers at cheap Catholic schools. His reading was poor but mathematics competent. At fifteen he quit school and worked in manual jobs, then as a flax cutter along the wetlands of the Waikato River. This was tough work, and he was of short stature so, when offered a course in mechanics, called a Marine Engineer’s ticket, this moved him from machete work to the punts’ engine rooms, later to command larger barges. Into his twenties he left flax work and, within the Barron – Mahitena families moved from Auckland to Sydney using the cheap fares for passenger berths on cargo ships, popular travel for Sydneysiders and Aucklanders in the mid 1900s. In Sydney in 1922 he fathered a girl, Aliece Eileen, to be known as Peggy, with Eileen Partridge, then seventeen, whom he married briefly. Peggy stayed with her father and his family. In Auckland he found one of the Mahitena daughters trapped in an unhappy marriage. They eloped to Sydney. This was Gwendoline, his adoptive family cousin, known as Aliex, sometimes Trox, who would stay devoted to him until death, despite occasional episodes of depression. Much as Trevor had known no mother but Ruby, the baby Peggy grew believing she was daughter to Aliex. She would be twelve before being told she was daughter to Eileen Partridge, who would then tell her she wanted them never to meet again.

Sydney’s roadways were becoming as busy with motor vehicles as with horse drays and sulkies. The rich were importing passenger vehicles to be driven by paid chauffeurs. His engineer’s ticket qualified him for a chauffeur’s position with a wealthy family, and his capacity to fashion small replacement parts using a metalwork lathe kept him popular in an age when replacements were delayed for ten or twelve weeks by ship. These families holidayed during the Southern winter in Britain, which they called home, leaving their houses in the care of their housekeepers, and their limousines in the care of their chauffeurs. In their absence, the chauffeurs might band together to form a convoy heavy with freeloaders and attractive women, headed for the Blue Mountains. His own band of drivers included the Tasmanian actor Errol Flynn, Jack Davey, later to become Sydney’s quiz king in the glorious days of radio, and a young new Zealand passenger, Frank Quinn, to become the theatrical hypnotist The Great Franquin.

Their convoys became notorious for rowdiness on the journey up, hosteliers refused to serve them. Asked in old age how they insisted on service, he said, “It is remarkable how quickly service arrives, if you take out your little shooter, and ping the bottles on the shelf behind the bar.”

With Aliex and toddler Peggy he moved to Melbourne, found work as a car salesman, bought a motorcycle and delivered film reels between cinemas, because the system among associated film houses called for staggered commencement times, so one copy of a feature film, in half hour reels, serviced up to four cinemas per session. Now he changed his name to Trevor Raymond Barron- Bryson, then to John Barron-Bryson. They lived cheaply in a studio room rental. By 1935 he ran a small engineering shop with one lathe, one employee, had fathered a son, John who now writes this his profile. At the outbreak of WW2 his machine shop was proscribed, meaning he was not permitted to join the services, instead produced parts for defence vehicles and aeroplanes. Arthur Miller’s play “All My Sons” describes his circumstances precisely. He designed and built a small petrol marine engine, the Commando, for use in remote warfare which could withstand airdrop, contamination and ill treatment.

Success in Asia against the Japanese allowed his circumstance to become deproscribed, He joined the AIF, was trained at the Officers School and commissioned. His Division was Transport. He was promoted to Captain, and demobilised after war’s end.

The future seemed to belong to transport, so he expanded his engineering shop to become a used car seller and repairer in Melbourne, importing from Britain partly completed sedans and some damaged which he re-bodied. A supplier of these was Henly’s London. When William Lyons, founder of Jaguar, asked Bertie Henly if he knew of a possible importer in Australia. Henly spoke of Jack Bryson in Melbourne.

The British financiers Tozer Kemsley and Millbourne took charge of consignment arrangements for shipping and stock. Trevor, now widely known as Jack Bryson, took in a partner, Lawson, to form Brylaw Motors, but soon bought him out, to become Bryson Industries and later floated on the stock exchange.

These two decades were becoming the high point of Jack Bryson’s life. Aliex gave birth to his second son Hugh, daughter Peggy had married an American Air Force officer and was raising a family in Alabama, the family home was now on prime Melbourne waterfront, they holidayed on a lake-boat inland, his surrogate mother Ruby Barron was made comfortable in a cottage in the Blue Mountains where she tended a vast garden, Jack was invited to join a private club formed by ex-Prime Minister Robert Menzies as his own domain so, after club nights, the Bryson home bar was filled with carousing politicians and captains of industry. Bryson Industries owned showrooms and workshops in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide and Jaguar dealers were everywhere. Son Hugh came to join his father in the company. Both sons liked to race motor cars, which worried their mother.

Aliex was diagnosed with cervical cancer and after a long illness died at home surrounded by family. Soon after, Jack was warned by Sir William Lyons the British Motor industry was to be rationalised under PM Heath and Cabinet Minister Thatcher who were pushing for amalgamations under the guidance of Donald Stokes, later awarded a peerage, who brokered the sale of Jaguar to British Motor Holdings, then to British Leyland. Son Hugh was killed in an accident ferrying a racecar to a track in Queensland, a blow from which his father never recovered. Leyland was dismantling Bryson Industries’ dealer network to favour its own Austin Morris dealerships so Jaguar sales in Australia were falling.

Trevor Barron as Jack Bryson collapsed from a cerebral haemorrhage in his office on August 10th 1971 before his 70th birthday tended by close associates and his half-brother Fabian Shailer, taken to hospital where he died while unconscious.

He did not live to see the event he had long predicted, the failure of the British conglomerate, or the Thatcher government’s nationalisation of it, the effort to save the British industry.

He was fond of saying, ‘An uneducated man may have a good idea’: his epitaph.