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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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de Chair, Sir Dudley Rawson Stratford (1864–1958)

by Chris Cunneen

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

Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair (1864-1958), by unknown photographer

Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair (1864-1958), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18845

Sir Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair (1864-1958), governor, was born on 30 August 1864 at Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada, son of Dudley Raikes de Chair and his wife Frances Emily, sister of Admiral (Sir) Harry Rawson. The family returned to England in 1870. In 1878 de Chair joined the Royal Navy's H.M.S. Britannia; passing out as midshipman in 1880, he joined the Alexandra, flagship in the Mediterranean. In 1882 his six-week captivity by Arabi Pasha brought headlines in England. He was promoted commander in 1897, captain in 1902. At Torwood, Devon, on 21 April 1903 he married Enid Struben.

The highlight of de Chair's naval career came in 1915-16 when, as rear admiral commanding the tenth cruiser squadron, he was responsible for the effective North Sea blockade of Germany. Appointed K.B.E. in 1916, in September next year he took over the third battle squadron and was promoted vice admiral. He was relieved of his command and placed on half pay, after refusing a post on the Board of Admiralty and criticizing the treatment of Lord Jellicoe. In July 1918 de Chair took command of coastguard and reserves and in 1920 was promoted admiral. He was president of the inter-allied commission on enemy warships in 1921-23.

De Chair became governor of New South Wales in October 1923, arriving in Sydney with his wife on 28 February 1924. He quickly formed a close friendship with Nationalist premier Sir George Fuller. The May 1925 election brought to office a Labor government, determined, in the governor's view, on 'radical and far-reaching legislation, which had not been foreshadowed in their election speeches'. He decided 'to aim at a policy of reasonable moderation, but also of caution, before granting really extreme or dangerous demands'.

In September J. T. Lang asked de Chair to appoint twenty-five new members to the Legislative Council. Initially agreeing only to fifteen, in December the governor capitulated, on condition that the appointments should not be used to abolish the council. Describing his first clash with a governor as 'a most courteous affair', Lang claimed he 'flatly refused to give the undertaking'. By insisting that their correspondence be published de Chair revealed his extensive resistance, thereby entering clearly into the political arena. To the governor's delight the abolition attempt failed. When Lang requested still more appointments, including women, de Chair refused: 'I told him what I thought of him, and the way in which he had deceived me'. Despite a special mission to England by the attorney-general, de Chair remained firm, believing that 'foreign elements were behind the movement to recall the Governor, and wreck the Constitution, and to establish a Communist Government'.

In May 1927, wishing without his cabinet's agreement to call an early election, Lang resigned, was reappointed, selected a new ministry and then obtained a dissolution for an October election. During these events de Chair was secretly advised by Chief Justice Sir Philip Street. (Sir) Thomas Bavin's subsequent victory ended for de Chair 'two years of most difficult and unpleasant political strife. In getting the Premier to the point of dissolution, I knew I had been skating on very thin ice.'

Invited by Bavin to remain beyond his term of office, de Chair obtained a year's extension from a reluctant Dominions Office. He retired on 8 April 1930 and thereafter lived mainly in London. He was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1933. Survived by his wife, two sons and daughter, he died at Brighton on 17 August 1958, leaving an estate valued for probate at £1295. His ashes were scattered in the English Channel. His autobiography, The Sea is Strong, was published posthumously in 1961.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1951-60
  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • H. V. Evatt, The King and His Dominion Governors (Lond, 1967)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1925-26, 1, 343
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Jan, 28 Feb 1924, 21, 22, 24 Dec 1925, 1, 7 Apr 1926
  • de Chair, unpublished memoirs (Imperial War Museum, London)
  • DO 35/2, 22, 45, 66.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'de Chair, Sir Dudley Rawson Stratford (1864–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 12 August 2020.

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, 2006-2020

Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair (1864-1958), by unknown photographer

Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair (1864-1958), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18845