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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Chandler, Arthur Bertram (Bert) (1912–1984)

by Alf Van Der Poorten

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Bertram Chandler, n.d.

Bertram Chandler, n.d.

Arthur Bertram (Bert) Chandler (1912-1984), science fiction writer and merchant navy officer, was born on 28 March 1912 at Aldershot, Hampshire, England, son of Arthur Robert Chandler (d.1915), soldier, and his wife Ida Florence, née Calver. Bertram attended Peddar’s Lane Council School and Sir John Leman School, Beccles, Suffolk. He went to sea (1928-35) with the Sun Shipping Co., advancing from apprentice to third officer, and gaining his second mate’s (1932, London) and first mate’s (1935, Calcutta) certificates. While serving (1936-55) with the Shaw Savill & Albion Co. Ltd, he progressed from fourth officer to chief officer and obtained a master’s certificate (1943, London). During World War II he was a gunnery officer in troop-ships and then chief officer in passenger liners.

On 25 May 1938 Chandler had married Joan Margaret Barnard at the parish church, Beccles, Suffolk. In New York during the war he met John W. Campbell Jr, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, who urged Chandler to contribute to this and other science fiction magazines. Following the breakdown of his marriage he moved to Australia in 1956. Employed (1956-75) by the Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand, he started as third officer and advanced to master. After his divorce he married Susan Wilson, a designer, on 23 December 1961 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney; they later divorced. Encouraged and bullied by his wife, he returned to writing. He published some forty novels and two hundred short stories, under his own name and the pseudonyms of Andrew Dunstan, S. H. M., Carl Lawrence, and, most frequently, George Whitley. Many of his books were translated into other languages, including Russian and Japanese.

Chandler, Jack to his friends and Bert to his fans, described most of his writings as essentially sea stories. His work was celebrated for the ‘lived in’ feel of the (space)ships in which his heroes travelled. He acknowledged his major character, John Grimes, to be a mix of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower and a would-be Chandler. Australasia, the edge of the world, was Chandler’s model for his Rim Worlds, the edge of the universe where disturbances in space-time allow for near arbitrary fantasy. Grimes’s welcome most readily conjures up the Rim Worlds stories: ‘This is Liberty Hall; you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard!’. Chandler’s novel Kelly Country (1983), written with the help of a grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council, was an alternative treatment of Australian independence. His short stories, notably ‘Giant Killer’ (1945) and ‘The Cage’ (1957), were considered his highest quality work.

Winning the Ditmar award for best Australian science fiction writer four times (1969, 1971, 1975, 1976), Chandler also won an American award in 1975 and the Seiun Sho award in Japan in 1976. The A. Bertram Chandler award, created in his honour and first presented in 1992, is for ‘outstanding achievement in Australian science fiction’. A fellow (1947) of the British Interplanetary Society, he was guest of honour at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago in 1982. He died on 6 June 1984 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, and was cremated; the two daughters and son of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Watson and P. E. Schellinger (eds), Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction (1991)
  • P. Collins (ed), The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy (1998)
  • R. Blackford et al, Strange Constellations (1999)
  • Science Fiction, vol 6, no 3, 1984, p 70
  • Canberra Times, 20 June 1984, p 22
  • Locus, Aug 1984, p 47
  • personal knowledge.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alf Van Der Poorten, 'Chandler, Arthur Bertram (Bert) (1912–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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