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Gill, George Hermon (1895–1973)

by Tom Frame

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

George Hermon Gill (1895-1973), by unknown photographer

George Hermon Gill (1895-1973), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 017737

George Hermon Gill (1895-1973), mariner, journalist, naval officer and war historian, was born on 8 March 1895 at Fulham, London, son of William Hermon Gill, printer's compositor, and his wife Alice, née Clark. Educated in London and at Scarborough, Yorkshire, in April 1910 George went to sea as an apprentice with George Thompson & Co. Ltd's Aberdeen Line. In 1914 he obtained his second-mate's certificate and in December came to Australia in the Themistocles; on her return voyage she carried to Egypt troops of the second contingent of the Australian Imperial Force. Gill served at sea with the Aberdeen Line throughout World War I and rose to second officer; in 1921 he gained his master-mariner's certificate.

Emigrating to Melbourne in 1922, he joined the shore staff of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers. On 2 June 1923 he married Esther Paterson (1892-1971) with Presbyterian forms at her Middle Park home; they were to remain childless. Gill resigned his post in 1929 and took Esther on a visit to England. Back at Middle Park—where they were to spend the rest of their lives—he turned his hand to freelance journalism, specializing in sea stories and nautical matters. From October 1933 he was employed as a reporter on the Star. With Frederick Howard, in 1934 he won a prize of £250 for the film scenario they based on Howard's novel, The Emigrant. Gill's 'Walter and Hermon' series of 'breathlessly unpunctuated sketches' in the Star, and later the Argus, were popular for their 'well observed, gentle ribbing of middle-class suburbia in the 1930s'.

Gill had been appointed lieutenant in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1927. Promoted lieutenant commander in June 1936, he was mobilized on 4 September 1939 and sent to Newcastle, New South Wales, for duty with the Examination and Naval Control services. In February 1940 he was posted to Navy Office, Melbourne. As publicity censorship liaison officer in the Naval Intelligence Division, he established cordial relations with the press. In 1943 he was appointed M.B.E. He jointly edited the series of books, H.M.A.S. (Canberra, 1942-45), took charge of the N.I.D.'s naval historical records section and in 1944 was chosen to write the naval volumes of the proposed official history of Australia in World War II. After revisiting England in 1945, he ceased full-time service on 14 November. Promoted commander in June 1947, he was transferred to the Retired List in 1953.

In 1947 Gill had become editor of the journal, Navy. From the early 1950s he edited the South Melbourne Record, an independent suburban weekly. He also wrote Three Decades (1949), a history of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. Meanwhile, he worked on his volumes of the official history and, as G. Hermon Gill, published Royal Australian Navy 1939-1942 and Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (Canberra, 1957, 1968). The books were favourably reviewed, and he was praised for the balance and clarity of his narrative which set detailed descriptions of the R.A.N.'s operations against the wider backdrop of the war. Since 1981 Michael Montgomery and members of the Sydney Research Group have used circumstantial evidence to challenge Gill's account (in his first volume) of the loss of the cruiser, H.M.A.S. Sydney, but their criticisms have not overturned his general conclusions.

Five ft 9½ ins (177 cm) tall and of medium build, Gill had fair, curly hair and a florid complexion. As a historian, he was meticulous and avoided pedantry. Nor did he stand on formality. He was highly regarded in naval circles for his knowledge of the R.A.N., and his friends appreciated his kindly demeanour and the warmth of his personality. He died on 27 February 1973 in East Melbourne and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Esther Paterson was born on 5 February 1892 at Carlton, Melbourne, second child of Scottish-born parents Hugh Paterson, artist, and his wife Elizabeth Leslie, née Deans; the artist John Ford Paterson was Esther's uncle and the dramatist Louis Esson her cousin. She was educated at Oberwyl school, St Kilda, and studied painting at the National Gallery of Victoria school in 1907-12. Best known for her street-scenes and landscapes, she found further avenues for her talents in commercial art, book-illustrating and cartooning. Her portraits of uniformed and civilian officers, including Rear Admiral (Sir) Victor Crutchley and Commodore (Sir) John Collins, were reproduced in the H.M.A.S. series and in magazines, and have been shown at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. The National Gallery of Victoria and the Geelong Art Gallery hold some of her work.

Paterson was a council-member (1954-68) of the Victorian Artists Society, a fellow (1949) of the Royal Society of Arts, London, and president (1966) of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors. She died on 8 August 1971 at Middle Park and was cremated with Anglican rites. Her younger sister Elizabeth (Betty) Deans Paterson (1894-1970) was also an artist, cartoonist and book-illustrator.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Montgomery, Who Sank the Sydney? (Syd, 1981)
  • The Lu Rees Archives, 8th issue (Canb, 1987)
  • T. Frame, HMAS Sydney (Syd, 1993)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 1969
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 Mar 1973
  • Paterson family papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Tom Frame, 'Gill, George Hermon (1895–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gill-george-hermon-10304/text18233, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 June 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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