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Cameron, Donald Norman (1851–1931)

by Caroline L. Cameron

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

This is a shared entry with Cyril St Clair Cameron

Donald Norman Cameron (1851-1931), by Swiss Studios

Donald Norman Cameron (1851-1931), by Swiss Studios

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24131648

Donald Norman Cameron (1851-1931), landowner and politician, and Cyril St Clair Cameron (1857-1941), soldier, landowner and politician, were brothers. Donald Norman was born at Fordon, Nile, Tasmania, eldest son of Donald Cameron and his Scottish wife Mary Isabella, née Morrison, and grandson of Donald Cameron who migrated from Scotland in 1820. At 8 Cameron attended Glenalmond College, Perthshire, Scotland, returning to Tasmania in 1870 to take up sheep-breeding on his property, Bentley, at Chudleigh: he became one of the colony's foremost farming authorities. On 8 June 1880 at St John's Church of England, New Town, he married Anne Lillias Scott.

Cameron was elected to the House of Assembly for Deloraine in 1893 but resigned after six months to unsuccessfully contest Tamar for the Legislative Council. He represented Deloraine again in the assembly from 1897 to 1899. He became a free-trade member for Tasmania in the first Federal House of Representatives; defeated for Denison in 1903, he won Wilmot next year in a by-election following the death of Sir Edward Braddon and held it until 1906. A member of the select committee on the Electoral Act administration in 1904, he was regarded as an energetic member who, although he spoke seldom, had a forceful personality. He represented Wilmot in the House of Assembly in 1912-13 and 1925-28.

Lean and lanky, conspicuous for wearing a panama hat in all weathers, Cameron was known for his pugnacity. It was said that 'if he had no foes … he would fight his friends'. He challenged the taxation commissioner in the High Court of Australia in 1923 and 1924 over the valuation of his livestock; an obituarist remembered him for a famous 'dripping' case arising from a servant using butter instead of dripping, and for another lawsuit concerning threepence exchange owing on a cheque. He died on 17 February 1931 at Chudleigh, survived by his wife, a daughter and two of his three sons.

Cyril St Clair was born on 5 December 1857 at Fordon and educated at Launceston Church Grammar School and in Edinburgh, where he received a commission in the Royal Southdown Militia. After joining the 1st (King's) Dragoon Guards in 1879, he was posted to the 9th (Queen's Royal) Lancers; he fought in the Afghan War in 1879-80 and marched with (Lord) Roberts from Kabul to Kandahar. In 1894 he returned as captain to Fordon with his wife Margaret Honeywood, née Hughes, whom he had married on 30 August 1887 in the Anglican church at Bovey Tracey, Devonshire, England.

Cameron embarked for the South African War in October 1899 as a captain in the Tasmanian Mounted Infantry; in December he was promoted major and in November 1900 was appointed C.B. Although his eccentric 'sudden personal predilections' annoyed, his bravery was admired by all: when captured and disarmed by the enemy he reputedly fought with his bare fists. He returned to Tasmania in 1901 a hero, and was elected to the Senate as a Protectionist. Australia's universal military training scheme owed much to his advocacy. A reticent parliamentarian, he was defeated in 1903 but was re-elected in 1906 and sat until 1913.

In 1901-03 and in 1909-14 Cameron was lieutenant-colonel of the 26th Light Horse, Tasmanian Mounted Infantry. He commanded the Australian Commonwealth Corps at the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 and next year was given command of the 12th Australian Light Horse and made aide-de-camp to the governor-general Lord Northcote. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he travelled to England where he was appointed to Headquarters Imperial Staff as assistant adjutant general and was adviser to General (Baron) Birdwood. Cameron took part in the landing at Gaba Tepe on 25 April 1915. Later that year he was invalided back to Australia and honoured by the Senate which admitted him to a seat on the floor of the House and presented him with a copy of the proceedings. In 1916 he was gazetted honorary colonel of the 26th Light Horse, Tasmanian Mounted Infantry, and in 1921 honorary colonel of the 22nd.

Tall and slightly stooped, with a typical weather-beaten military face, Cameron had 'a gentle disposition under the armour'; his ideal was 'determinedly and quietly to do our duty'. He died on 22 December 1941 at Fordon, survived by two of his four sons and one daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania (Hob, 1900)
  • British Australasian, 19 Nov 1914
  • Punch (Melbourne), 16 Sept 1915
  • Examiner (Launceston), and Mercury (Hobart), 18 Feb 1931, 23 Dec 1941
  • Bulletin, 25 Feb 1931
  • manuscript catalogue under Cameron (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Caroline L. Cameron, 'Cameron, Donald Norman (1851–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cameron-donald-norman-5475/text9305, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 September 2014.

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

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