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Chamberlin, Sir Michael (1891–1972)

by Cecily Close

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

Michael Chamberlin (1891-1972), by unknown photographer, c1964

Michael Chamberlin (1891-1972), by unknown photographer, c1964

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/686

Sir Michael Chamberlin (1891-1972), businessman and Catholic layman, was born on 30 August 1891 at Richmond, Melbourne, eldest of nine children of Richard Chamberlin, railway employee, and his wife Julia, née Callinan, both Victorian born. Michael attended primary schools at Sale and Yarrawonga, but was educated chiefly in Geelong, at St Augustine's Christian Brothers' College and at the private Central College. Aged 15, he, too, entered the railways, and worked as a station-hand and clerk.

The young Chamberlins were encouraged in self-improvement. In 1912, in Melbourne, Michael passed the Victorian public service examination, clerical division, and entered the correspondence and accounting section of the Department of Public Works. As World War I ended, he was seconded to the State War Council and later to the Department of Public Health where he helped to establish temporary hospitals during the influenza epidemic. This experience was a turning point in his career. He studied accountancy in his spare time.

In addition, Chamberlin received training in those organizations founded by his Church to secure men's faith, improve their worldly prospects, and prepare them to defend and assist it in their turn. A keen member of the Catholic Young Men's Society, he was early marked out as a devout, active and trusted adherent. In 1921, as general president, he assisted in forming the Ozanam Club for social study, and he also initiated the C.Y.M.S. Business Institute, a commercial night-school. Neither survived, but his call in the Advocate of August 1917—for an organization similar to the Knights of Columbus to counter Freemasonry in the workplace—had signalled a foundation he would serve henceforward, the Order of the Knights of Francis Xavier (from 1922 the Knights of the Southern Cross). On 6 December 1924 at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, he married Veronica Christina Erck.

In 1922 Chamberlin had joined T. M. Burke, a real-estate agent. During the Depression he managed Burke's Sydney branch and tried to find work for the Catholic unemployed. Returned to Melbourne, he moved in March 1933 to manage another firm in which Catholics were prominent, the National Trustees, Executors & Agency Co. of Australasia Ltd. He was to be a director (from 1955) and chairman from 1969 until his death. Other directorships were held in the City Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd and T. M. Burke Finance & Investment Co. Pty Ltd; he was also a member of the Roman Catholic Trusts Corporation for the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

He put his knowledge of finance and property at the service of numerous charitable institutions, and, as a trusted friend and later neighbour of Archbishop Mannix, could act as his representative on secular bodies. A member in 1944-63 and sometime chairman of St Vincent's Hospital's advisory council, and thereafter life councillor, he promoted the establishment of St Vincent's School of Medical Research as a member (from 1952) of its founding committee and was chairman from 1961. Chamberlin served on committees assisting the Mercy Private Hospital and on the committee of management (president 1951-56) of St George's Hospital, Kew. He was a council-member (1945-72) of Newman College, University of Melbourne, a member of the Mannix travelling scholarship committee and chairman of the fund-raising appeal for the Julia Flynn memorial prize for children from Catholic schools; to assist the K.S.C., he sat on the Dr Horace Nowland travelling scholarship committee and on the Catholic Vocational Guidance Auxiliary. A member of the committee which produced Pattern for Peace (1943), he became a close friend of its head B. A. Santamaria and chaired the National Civic Council's extension committee. He actively participated in the campaign for state aid to independent schools.

Appointed to the interim council and council of Monash University (deputy-chancellor 1961-68), Chamberlin took particular interest in the university's proposed religious centre and in Mannix College, of which he was made first fellow. His books formed the nucleus of its library, which was named after him. In 1969 the university bestowed on him an honorary doctorate of laws. He had also joined the La Trobe University committee in 1964, but retired when the council was formed. In 1955 Chamberlin was appointed O.B.E.; in 1964 he was knighted; in 1969 he was appointed knight of the Order of Pius.

A tall, slim, pleasant-faced man, Sir Michael was active to the end, appearing two nights before his death at a N.C.C. function—to a standing ovation. He died on 16 March 1972 at his Kew home and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. His wife survived him; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • B. A. Santamaria, Against the Tide (Melb, 1981)
  • B. A. Santamaria, Daniel Mannix (Melb, 1984)
  • C. Jory, The Campion Society and Catholic Social Militancy in Australia 1929-1939 (Syd, 1986)
  • S. Priestley, Melbourne's Mercy (Melb, 1990)
  • Knights of the Southern Cross, Advance Australia, Mar 1969
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 June 1965
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17 Dec 1970
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 17 Mar 1972
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 23 Mar 1972
  • A. W. Hannan, Victorian Catholics, State Aid and Religious Instruction in State Schools, 1901-39 (M.Ed. thesis, Monash University, 1974)
  • private information.

Citation details

Cecily Close, 'Chamberlin, Sir Michael (1891–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chamberlin-sir-michael-9720/text17163, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 August 2017.

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

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