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Blackburn, Arthur Seaforth (1892–1960)

by R. A. Blackburn

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

Arthur Seaforth Blackburn (1892-1960), soldier and lawyer, was born on 25 November 1892 at Woodville, South Australia, youngest child of Rev. Thomas Blackburn and his second wife Margaret Harriette Stewart, née Browne. He was educated at Pulteney Grammar School, the Collegiate School of St Peter and the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1913). He had been articled to C. B. Hardy and was admitted as a legal practitioner in 1913.

Although not a sturdy youth, Blackburn enlisted as a private in the 10th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, in October next year, and landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Charles Bean concluded that he and another private that day reached a point further inland than any other Australian soldier achieved in the campaign. Blackburn himself was modest and retiring on the matter in later years. He was commissioned second lieutenant in August, and served throughout the Gallipoli campaign and in France in 1916. On 23 July, at Pozières, he commanded a party of fifty men which, in the face of fierce opposition, destroyed an enemy strong point and captured nearly 400 yards (366 m) of trench, Blackburn personally leading four successive bombing parties, many members of which were killed. For this exploit he was awarded the Victoria Cross 'for most conspicuous bravery'. In September he was evacuated sick and was later invested by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

Invalided to Adelaide, on 22 March 1917 Blackburn married Rose Ada Kelly in his old college chapel, and was shortly afterwards discharged on medical grounds. He returned to legal practice and took an active part in the pro-conscription campaigns. In 1918-21 he was Nationalist member for Sturt in the House of Assembly. His speeches usually related to serving and returned soldiers; an exception was a resolution, passed on his motion, in favour of a system of profit-sharing for employees in industry. He continued his practice, but found parliamentary duties a heavy burden and did not seek re-election in 1921. He was a founding member of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League in South Australia and president of the State branch in 1917-21. In 1933-47 he was city coroner, in which office he encountered and ignored criticism for refusing to offer public explanation for any decision not to hold an inquest.

In 1939, having served as a militia officer for fifteen years, Blackburn was promoted lieutenant-colonel and took command of a motorized cavalry regiment. In 1940 he ceased legal practice and was appointed to command the 2nd/3rd Australian Machine-Gun Battalion, A.I.F., which fought under his command in Syria in 1941. Blackburn, as the senior Allied officer present, accepted the surrender of Damascus on 21 June, and after the campaign was a member of the Allied Control Commission for Syria. In February 1942 a small Australian force including his battalion was hastily landed in Java; he was promoted temporary brigadier and appointed to command 'Black Force', with orders to assist the Dutch against the rapid Japanese advance. After three weeks vigorous but fruitless resistance, and in spite of Blackburn's reluctance, the Allied forces surrendered: he was a prisoner until September 1945 when he was liberated in Mukden, Manchuria, weakened but not broken in health. In 1946 he was appointed C.B.E. (Military) for distinguished service in Java.

In 1947-55 Blackburn served as a conciliation commissioner in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. In 1955 he became a member of the Australian National Airlines Commission and a company director. He had again been the State president of the R.S.L. in 1946-49, and was chairman of trustees of the Services Canteen Trust Fund from 1947 to his death; for these and other community services he was appointed C.M.G. in 1955. Next year he attended the gathering of V.C. winners in London. He died suddenly at Crafers of ruptured aneurism of the common iliac artery on 24 November 1960, survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, and was buried with full military honours in West Terrace cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. B. L. Lock, The Fighting 10th: A South Australian Centenary Souvenir of the 10th Battalion, A.I.F., 1914-1919 (Adel, 1936)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • Rising Sun (Adelaide), Jan 1942
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Apr 1934
  • Personalities Remembered (radio script, D5390 (misc) no 43, State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

R. A. Blackburn, 'Blackburn, Arthur Seaforth (1892–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blackburn-arthur-seaforth-5256/text8857, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 15 September 2014.

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

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