Henry Eugene Tancred

  • 2Caps
  • 192Wallaby Number
PositionNo. 8
Date Of BirthMay 25, 1897
Place of BirthSydney
SchoolChristian Brothers' St. Joseph's School, Rozelle and St. Patrick's College, Wellington, New Zealand
Debut ClubGlebe-Balmain
Debut Test Match1923 Wallabies v New Zealand Maori, 1st Test Sydney
Final Test Match1923 Wallabies v New Zealand Maori, 2nd Test Sydney
DiedNovember 15, 1961


The three Tancred brothers, Harry, Jim and Arnold, although born in Sydney, spent their formative years in New Zealand, where their father was engaged in the meat export trade. Harry, the eldest and biggest of the family, played senior provincial rugby in New Zealand and toured Australia with a Kiwi league side, which he captained, in 1920. He stayed on in Sydney and was granted dispensation to play the amateur game because he had not accepted payments for his league matches. He joined the Glebe-Balmain Club (later to change its name to Drummoyne) along with his younger brothers Arnold and Jim, and in time they all became New South Wales and Australian representative players.

Harry played sixty-five first grade games for Glebe-Balmain, essentially as a hard-driving backrower and devastating cover defender. The Sydney Morning Herald report of the club premiership final of 1922 described Harry Tancred as the toughest tackler in the Sydney competition. He was chosen for New South Wales in 1923 as a backrower, probably because of his powerful physique in confronting the All Blacks. The younger brothers, Arnold and Jim, also both powerful forwards, were later to be selected in the famous 1927/28 Waratah team which toured the UK, France and North America. Arnold was later to be appointed Manager of the 1947/48 side which was so successful on a similar long tour, and became President of the New South Wales Rugby Union.

The Tancreds forged a highly successful business in the Australian meat trade in both Sydney and Brisbane (where they owned that city’s largest abattoir). Sons and grandsons Harry, George and Michael, all played with the Drummoyne Club. Harry and Arnold Tancred took an interest in horse racing. Harry owned the famous High Castle which won 31 races and both became Chairmen of the Sydney Turf Club in the period 1953-1960.

TANCRED, HENRY EUGENE (1897-1961), Rugby footballer, meat wholesaler and exporter, and horse – racing administrator, was born on 25 May 1897 at Balmain, Sydney, sixth of ten children of Thomas Tancred, a butcher from California, United States of America, and his Victorian-born wife Anna, nee O’Connor. Harry was educated at the Christian Brothers’ St. Joseph’s College, Rozelle, before his family moved to Wellington, New Zealand, to pursue further opportunities in the meat trade. Leaving school at the age of 13, he worked as a drover and then as a slaughterman. Harry Tancred played for the Petone Rugby (Union) Football Club’s first-grade side from 1924 and represented New Zealand on Rugby League tours to Australia in 1919 and 1921 (Captain).

Six feet 2 ins (188 cm) tall and 15 stone (95 kg) in weight, he was ‘strong, burly and fast for a man of his build’. Resettling in Sydney, he played in the forwards for the State Rugby Union side against the visiting New Zealand Maoris in 1923. For his contributions as a player and as an administrator with the Randwick and Drummoyne clubs, he was to be made a life member of the New South Wales Rugby Union. At the Church of Mary Immaculate, Waverley, on 1 June 1929 he married Myra Kathleen Bresnahan with Catholic rites. Tancred gave up football to concentrate on the family’s growing meat business, Tancred Bros, which he started ‘on a shoestring’ in 1922.

He was founding chairman and managing director of Tancred Bros Pty Ltd in 1932, and of its successor, Tancred Bros Industries Industries Ltd, which was registered as a company in 1956. Tancred Bros became one of the country’s largest wholesale butchering firms. It owned meatworks at Tenterfield and Bourke, and at Beaudesert, Queensland, and had grazing interests throughout Australia. President (1929) of the Wholesale Meat Traders’ Protective Association, Tancred was a member of the Meat Industry Advisory Committee during World War II and of the Australian Meat Board (1946-61). He travelled extensively overseas. His work involved stock deals with men connected with the turf, whose conversation stimulated his interest in horse-racing.

Tancred bought his first horse, Thornleigh, for 100 guineas in 1929.. Trained by Jack Jamieson, it won a dozen races, mostly in the Grafton area. Tancred subsequently owned a series of moderately performed horses until he acquired a bay colt named High Castle in 1937 for 7000 guineas. Known as “The Strawberry Bull’, because of the fleck in his red coat, High Castle won the Australian Jockey Club’s Epsom Handicap in 1940. Maurice McCarten later trained Tancred’s horses.

In 1943 the State Labor government established the Sydney Turf Club and empowered it to stage race meetings and wind up the proprietary racing clubs. Whereas the A.J.C. committee was dominated by wealthy graziers, many with Country Party affiliations, the first S.T.C. directors- Tancred among them- tended to be lawyers or self-made, wealthy businessmen, less likely to be aligned with conservative political parties. Impressed by the amenities of American racecourses during his visit in 1946, Tancred was receptive to innovations. While he was vice-chairman (1945-53), the S.T.C. introduced the photo- finish camera in 1946 and replaced the wire starting system with barrier stalls in 1947.

As chairman (from 1953), Tancred continued to push for the modernization of racing. Electrical timing devices and patrol films were introduced, and the first Golden Slipper Stakes, for two-year-olds, was run at Rosehill in 1957. Less successful were the trials of totalizator-only betting meetings held early in 1959: attendances and turnover both dropped, a sign that bookmakers were still a drawcard. Although Tancred was not a good mixer, he was willing to listen to criticism.

After suffering a severe stroke, Tancred resigned as chairman in 1959. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1960. Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter, he died of a coronary occlusion on 15 November 1961 at his Bellevue Hill home and was buried in Waverley cemetery. His youngest brother Arnold Joseph (1904-1963) was born on 30 October 1904 at Leichhardt and educated at St. Patrick’s College, Wellington. He returned to Sydney in the mid- 1920s and played Rugby Union for Glebe-Balmain. With another brother, James, he toured Britain, France and Canada with the New South Wales Waratahs in 1927-28.

A ‘tall, vigorous back row forward’, he was ‘a fearsome tackler but lacked pace.’ He managed the Australian Wallaby team that toured Britain and France in 1947-48, and was president of the New South Wales Rugby Union in 1959. Arnold succeeded his brother Harry as chairman and managing director of Tancred Bros and was a member (1961-63) of the Meat Board. He pioneered the export of meat to the U.S.A. Keen on horse-racing, he owned Putoko, which won the Brisbane Cup in 1952. He died of a coronary occlusion on 22 September at his Drummoyne home and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. His wife Mary Esther, nee Brett, whom he had married on 9 June 1935 at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, and their two daughters survived him.

Henry Eugene Tancred