Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Marr, Sir Charles William Clanan (1880–1960)

by C. J. Lloyd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Charles William Clanan Marr (1880-1960), by W. J. Mildenhall

Charles William Clanan Marr (1880-1960), by W. J. Mildenhall

National Archives of Australia, A3560:6059

Sir Charles William Clanan Marr (1880-1960), engineer, soldier and politician, was born on 23 March 1880 at Petersham, Sydney, son of Hobart-born James Clanan Marr, boot manufacturer, and his Irish wife Ellen, née Nilson. He was educated at Fort Street Model School, Newington College and Sydney Technical College, and played Rugby, and cricket and baseball for Petersham. He joined the New South Wales Public Service in 1896 and was appointed junior assistant in November 1899 in the Postmaster-General's Department, transferring in 1901 to the Commonwealth. On 20 September 1905 he married Ethel May Ritchie at Lewisham. Marr supervised the erection in 1912 of the first of Australia's chain of wireless telegraphy stations at Pennant Hills.

After seven years in school cadets, Marr had joined the volunteer forces in 1898 and served in an electrical company. In 1912 he commanded a signals troop, and by 1914 was a lieutenant with the Royal Australian Navy Wireless Radio Service. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in the Australia and New Zealand Wireless Signals Squadron in April 1916 and in May embarked for Mesopotamia where he was acting commander and major from September until the end of the campaign. The difficulties he had with the Arabs, 'the meanest, dirtiest, most treacherous lot', strengthened his convictions of racial superiority. Twice mentioned in dispatches, he was awarded the Military Cross (1917) and the Distinguished Service Order (1918). He remained in the militia after the war, commanding the signals of the First Cavalry Division.

After his return to Australia in mid-1918, Marr won the Sydney Federal seat of Parkes as a Nationalist in December 1919. He was government whip (1921-22) and parliamentary secretary to the Nationalists in 1921-25. In the Bruce-Page government he was honorary minister (1925-27) and minister for home and territories (1927-28). He was again honorary minister from February 1928 until the defeat of October 1929. At the head of the Australian delegation to the League of Nations in Geneva at the time, Marr made frantic but unsuccessful efforts to return for the election campaign, even seeking the assistance of (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith to fly back. (Sir) Edward McTiernan defeated him, but after he was appointed to the High Court of Australia, Marr won the by-election in January 1931, campaigning against the financial policies of the Scullin and Lang governments. He was vice-president in 1924-25 and 1929-31 of the National Association of New South Wales and vice-president of the Australian National Federation in 1928-31.

In the Lyons United Australia Party government, Marr in 1932-34 held the portfolios of health, repatriation and territories. Having served on the committees that organized the visits of the Prince of Wales (1920) and the Duke and Duchess of York (1927), he was given charge of the Duke of Gloucester's tour in 1934 and was appointed K.C.V.O. in 1935, when he was dropped from the ministry. In 1941-42 he was deputy chairman of the joint committee on broadcasting. He was defeated in 1943 when a heart ailment restricted his campaigning.

Marr was a tenacious watchdog over the development of Canberra where he lived after 1927. An enthusiastic supporter of the territories of Papua and New Guinea, Marr saw them as 'definitely white man's country', denying he had seen 'even one mosquito' during a visit to Rabaul. He hoped Papua would 'become one of the bright jewels in the Empire which the creator intended it to be'. He promoted the New Guinea Legislative Council, personally opening it in May 1933. Substantial land holdings he bought near Madang were acquired in 1929 by Amalgamated Coffee Plantations (New Guinea) Ltd, a company he founded with (Sir) Walter Carpenter and others. Marr held several company directorships, including Tatua Gold, New Zealand Forest Products Ltd, Papuan Apinaipi Petroleum Co. Ltd and W. R. Carpenter & Co. Ltd, and he was chairman of Mineral Development Ltd and Gold Development Ltd.

Marr died on 20 October 1960 at Pymble and was cremated after a state funeral at the Methodist Church, Gordon. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him. Charlie Marr's amiability and ability were widely admired among politicians; Lang described him as 'highly personable … an energetic local member and popular with all sections of the community, leaving politics aside'.

Select Bibliography

  • Reveille (Sydney), Jan 1935, Dec 1960
  • Pacific Island Monthly, Nov 1960
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 18 Apr 1929
  • Bulletin, 26 Oct 1960
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Oct 1969
  • Marr papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

C. J. Lloyd, 'Marr, Sir Charles William Clanan (1880–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marr-sir-charles-william-clanan-7496/text13067, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014