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Hunt, Philip Charles Holmes (1874–1941)

by Merle Richmond

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Philip Charles Holmes Hunt (1874-1941), gas engineer and company director, was born on 19 July 1874 at Aston, Warwickshire, England, eldest son of Charles Hunt, gas engineer, and his wife Lucy Ann Miller, née Holmes. Hunt attended Malvern College and studied engineering and chemistry at Mason University College (Birmingham University). An associate of the Institute of Chemistry in 1896 and a fellow in 1920, he was among the first members of the Institution of Gas Engineers, London (founded 1902), and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1911.

Hunt started work as assistant to his father, then engineer at Birmingham Gas Works, and became superintendent of the Adderley Street Gas Works in 1899. In 1902 he was appointed assistant engineer to the Metropolitan Gas Co., Melbourne, and arrived in Victoria on 24 March 1903; he was promoted acting engineer in 1906 and engineer in 1907. Hunt gave excellent service to the company: he introduced slot meters, making gas available to Melbourne's working class, and after visiting Europe in 1910 to investigate new carbonising plant he recommended and supervised impressive construction and developmental projects, including in 1912 Australia's first vertical retort installation. His roles as principal witness before the Gas Enquiry Board (1912) and as advocate for the company in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration were praised by the company chairman (Sir) John Grice when in 1914 Hunt resigned to go into business as a consulting engineer and to devote more time to his new appointments as chairman of the local board of the Colonial Gas Association Ltd and as a director of Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd. Highly esteemed by (Sir) John Monash, he also received many letters of appreciation from company employees. (He replied to one, from union delegates at the Fitzroy works, with the keenest satisfaction that his efforts to 'weigh the scales evenly' had earned him their regard.) Hunt became a director of the Metropolitan Gas Co. in 1922 and was deputy chairman at the time of his death.

In 1922 Hunt was also appointed managing director of the local board of the Colonial Gas Association. As plans for expansion were hindered by English Treasury restrictions on raising capital and by taxation on dividends paid to shareholders in Australia, Hunt convinced British shareholders that great advantage lay in transferring head office to Melbourne. The transfer was effected from 1 January 1924, and with Hunt as chairman and managing director C.G.A. developed from a minor gas company to fifth largest in Australia, in terms of gas output, with numerous subsidiaries exploiting by-products from gasworks.

The acknowledged leader of the gas industry in Australia, Hunt acted as consultant to the Australian Gas Light Co., Sydney, the South Australian Gas Co., the Hobart Gas Co. and the Newcastle Gas and Coke Co. He was founder and first president of the Australian Gas Institute and chairman of the Gas Companies Association (later the National Gas Association, of which he was president). John Duggan, later manager of the C.G.A., described 'P.C.' as 'extremely farsighted … an amazingly energetic and well-preserved man … To the outsider he sometimes seemed austere and pompous; to employees he was kindly, considerate and loyal, and greatly respected and admired'.

In addition to his gas industry commitments, Hunt at the time of his death was chairman of the board of Johns and Waygood Ltd and of Mount Lyell and a director of a dozen companies. He was a keen movie photographer, tennis enthusiast and devoted family man. He collapsed and died when visiting the Commonwealth Bank Building, Sydney, on 6 May 1941 in connexion with his wartime appointment as Commonwealth director of substitute fuels. Survived by his wife Frances Annie, née Lugg whom he had married at Christ Church, South Yarra, on 16 April 1907, and by his two daughters, he was buried in Brighton cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £44,264.

Select Bibliography

  • The Metropolitan Gas Company Jubilee Book (Melb, 1928)
  • Fifty Years of Good Public Service (Melb, 1938)
  • G. Blainey, One Hundred Years: Johns and Waygood Ltd, 1856-1956 (Melb, 1956), and The Peaks of Lyell (Melb, 1967)
  • National Gas Bulletin, 5 (Aug 1940), no 1, (May 1941), no 10
  • Colonial Gas Association, Service Messenger, 66, June 1941, p 2
  • Hunt papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Merle Richmond, 'Hunt, Philip Charles Holmes (1874–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hunt-philip-charles-holmes-6769/text11705, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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