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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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de Burgh, Ernest Charles (1892–1977)

by R. H. W. Reece

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

Ernest Charles de Burgh (1892-1977), journalist, was born on 30 March 1892 at Battersea, London, second son of Henry Augustus de Burgh, farmer and grazier, and his wife Annette Elizabeth (Bessie), née Lefroy, both of whom belonged to Western Australia's established landed families. Ernest was educated first by a tutor and then at Guildford Grammar School, Perth, where he was captain, stroke of the boat crew and senior lieutenant in the cadet corps. After leaving school in 1911, he worked for two years as a cadet reporter on Perth's Daily News and for a time managed the family property, Cowalla, at Moore River near Gingin, for his brother Sidney.

On 10 May 1917 de Burgh enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He reached France in April 1918 and was posted to the 5th Divisional Signal Company. While mending communication lines near Amiens on 9 July, he was gassed and invalided to England. He returned briefly to France after the Armistice and was discharged on 26 August 1919 in Western Australia.

Although he again tried farming at Cowalla, de Burgh found that his health was unsatisfactory and joined the West Australian newspaper in 1922. He married Cecil Molyus Hungerford on 30 May 1928 at St Mary's Anglican Church, West Perth. Working principally as an agricultural reporter, he became a leader-writer in 1933 under H. J. Lambert and editor-in-chief on 21 August 1946. He held this post until his retirement on 1 July 1956. As editor-in-chief, he continued his interest in agricultural matters and campaigned for the development of sand-plain farming, notably in the Esperance area where he influenced the establishment of an agricultural research station.

Politically conservative, de Burgh was a Western Australian patriot who believed that the State should generate its own economic development and financial independence, but he nonetheless supported increased Federal income tax. He was also concerned with strengthening Australia's defences following the experience of Japanese raids on northern Western Australia during World War II and advocated the establishment of a naval base at Fremantle. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he took a sympathetic interest in Aboriginal issues, as did his younger colleague (Sir) Paul Hasluck. Using The Times as his model, and maintaining strict standards of accuracy and expression in his carefully crafted editorials, de Burgh never adapted to the tabloid format necessitated by postwar shortages of newsprint. He also resisted pressure from his managing editor James Edward Macartney to liberalize and popularize the newspaper.

A pleasant and widely-respected man, de Burgh was steeped in English literature and the Bible. He was essentially a private person who kept aloof from the more robust side of journalistic life. Interested in local history, he was a stalwart of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society. While he was appointed O.B.E. in 1955, he was never a public figure and remained a farmer at heart. He died on 18 June 1977 in Perth and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Guildford Grammar School, Swan, June 1911
  • West Australian, 28 June 1977
  • W. de Burgh, Cowalla Part 1: 1896 to 1922 (mimeograph, 1983) and Cowalla Part 2: 1922 to 1947 (mimeograph, 1986)
  • de Burgh papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. H. W. Reece, 'de Burgh, Ernest Charles (1892–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 31 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

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