Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Colquhoun, Percy Brereton (1866–1936)

by Don Wilkey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Percy Brereton Colquhoun (1866-1936), by unknown photographer

Percy Brereton Colquhoun (1866-1936), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 29250

Percy Brereton Colquhoun (1866-1936), sportsman, lawyer and politician, was born on 28 September 1866 at West Maitland, New South Wales, third son of George Colquhoun (1830-1901), a solicitor from Kent, England, and his London-born wife Mary (Polly), née Poulton. George, a descendant of a prominent English legal family, migrated to New South Wales in 1853 and was crown solicitor from 1894. Percy was educated by a tutor until the family moved to Sydney in 1877, when he attended St Paul's School, Redfern, and, from 1881, Newington College, where he captained both the Rugby and cricket teams and was a sergeant in the cadet corps.

In 1886 Colquhoun was articled to his father (then a partner in Allen & Allen); he was a committee-member and librarian of the Articled Clerks' Association. On 6 June 1891 he was admitted as a solicitor. That year he and his Rugby team-mate H. H. Lee opened Lee & Colquhoun at Orange. In 1893 the business was extended to Blayney, but in 1896 Colquhoun returned to Sydney to open their head office. In the 1890s he was a second lieutenant in the 1st Infantry Regiment.

Colquhoun had joined the victorious University Football (Rugby) Club in 1885. Next year he was chosen for the New South Wales tour of New Zealand, and was the team's leading points-scorer. By 1887 he was rated as the outstanding three-quarter in Australia, with a magic game based on balance and poise, skilful footwork and brilliant running, and the ability to kick field goals as opponents were closing in on him. He played for New South Wales in intercolonial matches until 1896.

Also a first-class tennis player, Colquhoun in May 1889 represented New South Wales against Victoria at the Sydney Cricket Ground, winning both his singles matches. He played fifty-five matches for New South Wales against Victoria between 1889 and 1899, with a last appearance in 1909. A dashing player, he was a pioneer of the modern school with great volleying and smashing and a fine service. He always played in knickerbockers and black stockings. He twice held the New South Wales men's doubles title (1893, 1896) and won the mixed doubles in 1895 and 1896 with Mabel Ann Shaw (d.1914), whom he married in Melbourne on 30 April 1897. She was a second cousin of George Bernard Shaw and, with her sister Phenie, one of the foremost lady players; in 1885-96 they won eight Victorian and ten New South Wales titles.

After playing with the Killara Golf Club's 'A' team for two seasons, Colquhoun turned to lawn bowls. With a game distinguished by the ease and rhythm of his delivery, for almost two decades from 1907 he represented New South Wales against all the Australian States and New Zealand. In 1916 he defeated the former international cricketer Harry Moses 32-22 at the City Bowling Club to win the State singles title, in a game which was long remembered as the best ever seen in Sydney.

Colquhoun was a vice-president and president in 1911-12 of the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association. In 1909 he became president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia, and refereed Sydney's first Davis Cup challenge round final. He worked strenuously on the Davis Cup sub-committee and held together the shaky alliance with New Zealand until 1922. He was first president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia until 1926 when its headquarters were transferred to Melbourne.

In 1913-20 Colquhoun held Mosman in the Legislative Assembly as a Liberal-Nationalist. Chairman of committees in 1919-20, he was an excellent debater and was regarded as an authority in constitutional law. In later years he concentrated increasingly on his legal practice with George King, his partner from 1912. He retired in 1934. For many years he played district tennis for Mosman and Middle Harbour and later socially. He was an ardent cricket-lover, enjoyed surfing and often had century breaks at billiards. In his quieter moments he loved growing flowers and was a skilled carpenter. He was a trustee of Taronga Zoological Park.

Survived by a son and a daughter, Colquhoun died of cerebro-vascular disease at his Mosman home on 23 October 1936 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at £424. He was one of the finest all-round athletes to have represented New South Wales. Few have been more popular—he was remembered as much for his charm, old-world courtesy and affability.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydneyites as We See 'Em, 1913-14-15 (Syd, 1915?)
  • Town and Country Journal, 11 Aug 1894, 1 Feb 1911
  • Arrow (Sydney), 6 Mar 1909
  • Referee (Sydney), 5 July 1916
  • Sydney Mail, 14 May 1919, 28 Oct 1936
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Oct 1936.

Citation details

Don Wilkey, 'Colquhoun, Percy Brereton (1866–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/colquhoun-percy-brereton-5743/text9723, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018