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Abbott, Percy Phipps (1869–1940)

by Terry Hogan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Percy Phipps Abbott, by W. A. Shearon

Percy Phipps Abbott, by W. A. Shearon

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22445716

Percy Phipps Abbott (1869-1940), solicitor, soldier and politician, was born on 14 May 1869 in Hobart Town, son of John William Abbott, auctioneer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Phipps. Educated at The Hutchins School, Hobart, in 1878-87, he was articled to Thomas Edgar Creswell, a Sydney solicitor, in April 1889 and admitted to practice on 2 June 1894. An active member of the Sydney Rowing Club, he played social cricket and was enrolled as a special constable during the 1891 wharflabourers' strike.  

Late in 1893 Abbott had bought Norman MacDonald's practice at Glen Innes. On 2 September 1901 at Tamworth he married Elizabeth Matilda, daughter of G. B. Gidley King of Goonoo Goonoo, widow of Colin James Ross and mother of three children; Abbott valued his connexion with old colonial families. He was always an active sportsman: first secretary of the Northern Border Cricket Association, president of the Glen Innes Rifle Club, a keen trout fisherman and breeder of racehorses. He was an alderman on the Glen Innes Municipal Council in 1898-1904 and 1906-14, and in 1910-13 was mayor and president of the hospital board. Backed by the Farmers and Settlers' Association of New South Wales, he was elected as a Liberal to the House of Representatives in 1913 and represented New England until 1919 when he resigned. In the House he was preoccupied with tariffs, decentralization and industrial lawlessness.

Abbott had joined the 4th Infantry Regiment in 1898 as a second lieutenant; he transferred to the 5th Australian Light Horse in 1903 and in 1905 to the 6th. He was promoted captain in 1908 and major next year; from 1913 he commanded the 5th Light Horse. Appointed lieutenant-colonel in the Australian Imperial Force in March 1915, he sailed for Egypt in June in command of the 12th Light Horse, railing in his diary against the wickedness of Germany, but anxious, notwithstanding his rank, to observe the proprieties of Australian egalitarianism. On Gallipoli he was appalled by the ferocity of trench warfare, proud of the Anzacs and scathing about British strategy. He was soon commanding the 10th Light Horse.

Suffering from enteric fever, in October 1915 Abbott was evacuated to England where he commanded Australian staging camps. He often compared the daring and dash of the Australian soldier (however undisciplined) with the slovenly reluctance of his English working-class counterpart, but in 1916 he was disturbed by the number of troops voting against conscription in the referendum. Deeply appreciating the honour of shaking the King's hand four times, he was appointed C.M.G. in June 1917. He was appointed to command the 63rd Battalion, but it was disbanded before seeing action, and he served in France with the 30th, and was mentioned in dispatches. At the end of 1917 he resumed command of the 12th Light Horse. Recurrence of enteric, the effects of gas and a chronic eye complaint forced his return to Australia in April 1918 and he was released from the A.I.F. in June, although he continued in command of the 12th, now New England Light Horse, until he retired in 1929. In 1919 he was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration.

Having re-established his legal practice, in 1919 Abbott organized the Country Party campaign for the State election in New England and accompanied (Sir) Michael Bruxner on his electoral tour. He was president of the Northern New State Movement from 1920. Defeated as a Country Party candidate for the Senate in 1922, he was elected in 1925 but lost his place in 1928. A ready speaker of great charm and humour, Abbott was unpredictable in parliament and sometimes had bitter exchanges with opponents over trivial matters. In 1927-29 he sat on the royal commission on the Constitution, and as a champion of the 'Small Staters' presented several minority reports.

In 1932 Abbott sold his practice to his eldest son Douglas and retired to Tamworth but, soon wearying of idleness, he re-established a practice. He was a member of the Union and Civic clubs in Sydney. In 1939-40 he was commandant of Tamworth civil defence. Survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter, he died in hospital at Tamworth on 9 September 1940 of asthmatic bronchitis and heart failure and was buried in the Church of England cemetery at Glen Innes. His assets were valued for probate at £1662 but his debts amounted to £18,273.

Select Bibliography

  • Glen Innes Municipal Council, The Beardies Heritage (Glen Innes, 1972)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1929-31, 2 (16)
  • G. S. Harman, Politics at the Electoral Level, a Study in Armidale and New England, 1899 to 1929 (M.A. thesis, University of New England, 1965)
  • letters and documents (privately held)
  • Senator P. P. Abbott papers (University of New England Library, and State Library of New South Wales, and National Archives of Australia)
  • P. P. Abbott war diaries (privately held).

Citation details

Terry Hogan, 'Abbott, Percy Phipps (1869–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/abbott-percy-phipps-4962/text8231, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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