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Booth, Sir Charles Sylvester (1897–1970)

by E. K. Sinclair

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Charles Sylvester Booth (1897-1970), businessman, was born on 23 February 1897 at Halifax, Yorkshire, England, son of John Thomas Booth, schoolmaster, and his wife Ada, née Wilson. Educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, Charles enlisted in the British Army in World War I and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers Special Reserve. He was attached to the Australian Corps in France with the local rank of major and was mentioned in dispatches. After the war he served a deferred apprenticeship in mechanical engineering with Armstrong Whitworth & Co. Ltd at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

In 1923 Booth came to Australia as secretary and accountant to a contracting company set up by Armstrong Whitworth & Co. Ltd. In 1929 he was appointed Australian representative of Walmsley Chas. & Co., later Walmsley (Bury) Ltd, a member of the Armstrong Whitworth group and one of the leading British pulp-and-paper engineering firms. He married Ellen Myra Grant, a trained nurse, on 22 September 1939 at the Toorak Presbyterian Church, Melbourne. They lived quietly, with shared interests in photography, gardening and collecting paintings; they were to remain childless.

One of two businessmen outside the firm who joined the postwar planning committee of Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd in 1942, Booth was made a director two years later. He left Walmsley in 1946 to become assistant managing director of A.P.M. and worked to Sir Herbert Gepp whose restless, turbulent spirit was propelling the company to adopt new techniques, establish new mills and acquire additional forests. Succeeding Gepp in 1948, Booth steered A.P.M. through a period in which it faced financial crisis from its over-ambitious expansion programme, challenges to its monopoly, and the hostility of those who opposed its entry into the field of container-making. Although he had received no formal training in management, he established an effective company structure, secured new banking arrangements and made peace with the firm's customers. The trade unions found him approachable. Convinced of the importance of management training for executives, he was a member of the University of Melbourne Summer School of Business Administration from its inception in 1954. He succeeded Essington Lewis in 1959 as chairman of the Australian Administrative Staff College, Mount Eliza, and held that office for ten years.

A devout Presbyterian, Booth had supported 'A Call to the People of Australia', the national movement promoted in 1951 by the lieutenant-governor of Victoria, Sir Edmund Herring, which aimed to boost moral and spiritual values in postwar Australia. Booth was also a trustee of the Toorak Presbyterian (later Uniting) Church and a member of its board of management.

When he retired as managing director in 1959 and became chairman of A.P.M., the company was securely established as the country's leading pulp-and-paper maker. Under his direction it had pioneered the use of native eucalypts for papermaking and become the largest private forester in Australia. In 1959 Booth accepted an invitation from the secretary-general to be a member of the United Nations' committee on industrialization. At the request of the Commonwealth government, he represented Australia at a conference at Cambridge, England, on administrative organization for economic development which was arranged by the Royal Institute of Public Administration.

Having retired as chairman in 1966, Booth remained on the A.P.M. board until his death. Stockily built and 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, he moved at a leisurely and deliberate pace. With blue eyes framed by gold-rimmed spectacles, his pale face was seldom animated. Although not a gregarious person, he was comfortable among his peers. He enjoyed his membership of the Savage Club, and later joined the Melbourne and other interstate clubs. There was an old-fashioned formality in his office relationships: no Christian names except for one or two of his closest colleagues; strict punctuality for all meetings; and the secretarial staff knew that he would not tolerate split infinitives, or allow papers to be perforated with multiple pin-holes. While some found him unduly fastidious, none questioned his competence or his achievements.

Booth was chairman of the Victorian committee of the Industrial Fund for the Advancement of Scientific Education in Schools and of the Melbourne board of the Bankers' and Traders' Insurance Co. Ltd. He was a member of the State committee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowships, the University of Melbourne appointments board, the council of the Institute of Public Affairs and the Victorian Overseas Foundation Association. Appointed to the Order of the White Rose of Finland in 1960 and C.B.E. in 1964, he was knighted in 1969. Sir Charles died at his Toorak home on 27 June 1970 and was cremated; his wife survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at $178,764. In 1973 his fine collection of Australian art was sold by the auctioneers, Christie.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Sayers, Ned Herring (Melb, 1980)
  • E. K. Sinclair, The Spreading Tree (Syd, 1990)
  • IPA Review, 24, July-Sept 1970
  • APM Ltd Archives, Melbourne
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

E. K. Sinclair, 'Booth, Sir Charles Sylvester (1897–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/booth-sir-charles-sylvester-9541/text16803, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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