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Delamothe, Sir Peter Roylance (1904–1973)

by Brian F. Stevenson

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

Sir Peter Roylance Delamothe (1904-1973), medical practitioner and politician, was born on 29 June 1904 at Spring Hill, Brisbane, fourth child of Charles Joseph de la Mothe, a chemist from France, and his Queensland-born wife Anna Mary, née Oliver. 'Bobby', as the family called him, was educated at St Francis School, Hughenden, and Mount Carmel College, Charters Towers; he finished third in the State in his final examinations, won an open scholarship and entered the University of Sydney (M.B., B.S., 1926) where he augmented his funds by tutoring. He served as junior (1927-28) and senior (1929-30) resident medical officer at Sydney Hospital, spending time as an ophthalmological surgeon before entering private practice. On 23 April 1931 Delamothe (as he now styled his surname) married Myrtle Eunice Lois Bussell at the Methodist Church, Ashfield.

In January 1933 he was appointed medical superintendent of the hospital at Collinsville, North Queensland. Hard working and popular, he performed seventy-seven operations in his first seven weeks there. According to one report, the hospital's 'popularity . . . increased tenfold' after his arrival. In early 1936 he set up his own practice at Bowen. Delamothe was involved in numerous organizations at Bowen and Collinsville, and stood unsuccessfully as an Independent for the Bowen mayoralty in 1939. Appointed probationary flight lieutenant, Royal Australian Air Force, on 12 March 1940, he served in various R.A.A.F. hospitals and medical receiving stations during World War II. He was promoted temporary wing commander in October 1942 and transferred to the reserve on 26 October 1944.

Returning to Bowen, Delamothe resumed his practice and in April 1946, again standing as an Independent, was elected mayor. A divorcee, on 17 May 1947 at the Australian Inland Mission Hall, Broome, Western Australia, he married with Presbyterian forms Joan Patricia Milner, a 28-year-old clerk. Although unable to achieve the construction of a major highway diversion to Bowen in the course of his twelve-year term, he saw sewerage works begun and the first co-ordinated attempts made to attract tourists to the region. He served simultaneously as mayor and doctor (with his surgery also for a time located in the municipal chambers); his efforts were meticulously recorded and favourably publicized in the Bowen Independent. In April 1958, while the town was being devastated by a cyclone, the mayor operated 'with calm intensity by torchlight' on a desperately ill patient in an unroofed hospital. For Delamothe, a week of virtual twenty-four-hour days followed as he supervised the beginning of the town's reconstruction. Next year he was appointed O.B.E.

In 1960 Delamothe accepted Liberal endorsement for the new seat of Bowen in the Legislative Assembly. The electorate encompassed many strong Labor areas, including the militant and heavily unionized Collinsville, but his personal following enabled him to win Bowen that year and to hold the seat narrowly until 1971. He was more persuasive than most backbenchers at extracting government funds: in his first term Bowen's high school was completed and a new hospital built. Following the closure and sale of the state-owned coalmine at Collinsville in 1961, he negotiated with local employers to redeploy the retrenched workers. Soon after, the introduction of a major dam and power-station project eliminated unemployment at Collinsville.

On 26 September 1963 Delamothe was appointed minister for justice and attorney-general. In the eight years he held the portfolio he acted to ease the backlog of cases in Queensland courts, and oversaw the establishment of the Law Reform Commission and the Legal Aid Bureau. By introducing weekend detention and work-release schemes for minor offenders, and by persuading the government to begin an extensive building programme, he significantly alleviated prison overcrowding. His reform of the State's drinking laws resulted in the provision of new types of liquor licences which allowed Brisbane hotels to remain open on Sundays and permitted women in public bars. He also introduced Queensland's first consumer-protection laws. According to an enthusiastic journalist, 'The Doc' 'probably put forward more compassionate and humane legislation than any other politician in the state's history'. From June 1967 he was deputy-leader of the Queensland Liberal Party.

Following an electoral redistribution, the seat of Bowen was abolished. On 20 December 1971 Delamothe took up his appointment as Queensland agent-general in London. He was knighted in June 1973. Already seriously ill, he resigned on 30 September. Sir Peter died of cancer on 26 October that year at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, England, and was cremated; his ashes were scattered on Bowen harbour. His wife, their son and two daughters, and four sons of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Delamothe and B. Stevenson, The Delamothe Story (Brisb, 1989).

Citation details

Brian F. Stevenson, 'Delamothe, Sir Peter Roylance (1904–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/delamothe-sir-peter-roylance-9944/text17615, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 12 December 2018.

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

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