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Clements, Hubert Ingham (1886–1969)

by Ross Holland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Hubert Ingham Clements (1886-1969), engineer, was born on 8 June 1886 at Burwood, Sydney, eldest son of Australian-born parents Ingham Suttor Clements, surveyor, and his wife Mary Bell, née Pinhey. After attending Fort Street Model School and in 1900-03 Sydney Grammar School, Hubert was apprenticed to a mechanical engineer. In January 1906 he obtained a diploma in mechanical drawing with honours from the Sydney School of Mechanical Drawing.

Fascinated by the internal combustion engine, by 1906 Clements had constructed a functional automobile. He established his own engineering business at Strathfield in 1908, manufacturing both marine and land-based petrol engines; a motorcycle bearing his name appeared in 1910. During World War I he was contracted to the Australian defence forces, servicing and repairing motor lorries. The business flourished with the increasing popularity of the motorcar; spare parts being hard to obtain, his workshop was able to fabricate replacements and improve the reliability of the original designs. Quality machines were his specialty, including some of the great marques of the period, such as Duesenberg, Minerva and Thames. Clements was sometime vice-president of the Institute of Automotive Mechanical Engineers. On 2 April 1914 he married a nurse, Annie Grace McQueen, at St Thomas's Church of England, Enfield. They were to have four children.

Probably through the many doctors among his clientele Clements became interested in medical equipment, especially anaesthesia apparatus. As early as 1917, in collaboration with Dr Mark Lidwill, he designed and manufactured an ether vaporiser, incorporating an electrically powered source of compressed air. From the 1920s Clements devoted himself increasingly to improving ether apparatus and manufacturing portable suction machines for use in hospital operating theatres. The latter machines were to earn an unrivalled reputation for reliability; many remained in service over thirty years after their date of production. Among their ingenious features was the use of fractional electric motors of commercial origin (many had been destined for vacuum cleaners). An innovation was the pump and its unique lubrication system, which made the device almost immune to abuse by the technically ignorant.

Clements's other successful projects included centralized vacuum systems, breast pumps and laboratory centrifuges used in blood banks throughout Australia. Expanding business necessitated several moves—from Rushcutters Bay to Crows Nest, then to St Leonards and finally to Ryde. His son William, a science graduate, brought useful academic skills to the business, which became H. I. Clements & Son, but he died prematurely (of cancer). When Hubert was disabled by two strokes the company was sold in 1967 for $52,500; by the late 1980s the new owners had achieved a turnover of $60 million.

Clements died on 29 June 1969 in a private hospital at Chatswood and was cremated. His wife, a son and two daughters survived him. Beautiful examples of his youthful drawings are in the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. The Australian Society of Anaesthetists holds a collection of his apparatus and one of Harold Cazneaux's photographic portraits of a doctor with a Clements Ether Vaporiser.

Select Bibliography

  • Clements records, 95/256/1 (Powerhouse Museum, Sydney)
  • family records (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ross Holland, 'Clements, Hubert Ingham (1886–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clements-hubert-ingham-12846/text23191, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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