Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Ogilvie, Albert George (1890–1939)

by Michael Roe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Albert George Ogilvie (1890-1939), premier, was born on 10 March 1890 at the Victoria Tavern, Hobart, son of James Ogilvie, publican (son of a convict smith), and his wife Kate, née McGee. Ogilvie attended Buckland's School in Hobart and St Patrick's College, Ballarat, Victoria. He afterwards retained some tie with the Catholic Church. In 1913 he completed a law degree at the University of Tasmania, showing ability as both scholar and athlete. After serving articles with N. K. Ewing, he was admitted to the Bar in 1914 and established a reputation for persuasion of juries in criminal cases.

Ogilvie advised trade unions, and entered Labor politics, winning the seat of Franklin in the House of Assembly in May 1919. Vigorous and fluent, he voiced 'Catholic socialist' notions and with Labor's victory in October 1923 joined J. A. Lyons's cabinet; the Hobart Mercury attributed this to 'the politics of push'. He aggressively intrigued to undermine his leader. His portfolios were attorney-general, education and, from March 1924, forests and mines (until July 1925). A major work was to help prepare 'The Case for Tasmania 1926' apropos Federal subsidies.

In August 1927 sensation exploded as a Nationalist politician alleged improper relationships between Ogilvie's firm and the Public Trust Office for which, as attorney-general, Ogilvie had responsibility. A royal commissioner, Justice (Sir) Harold Crisp, investigated. Most charges involved loans on mortgage from the office to clients of Ogilvie and his partner T. A. Okines, who gave evidence and then suicided. Crisp found that Ogilvie, while free from some charges, had concealed his firm's troubles in meeting due payments; Lyons forced his resignation from cabinet. The issue became embittered, within both community and Labor movement. Further revelation of Okines's delinquency tended to diminish Ogilvie's blame: the full Supreme Court (against Crisp's dissent) refused to debar him and at the June 1928 election, which the government lost, his personal vote stayed high.

In October 1929 Lyons went to the House of Representatives. Against Lyons's wishes, caucus elected Ogilvie to leadership of the Opposition. Thereafter the Australian Labor Party in Tasmania suffered many disputes; at the May 1931 elections Ogilvie took a radical stance and had E. G. Theodore as his chief Federal supporter, but J. C. McPhee retained office. For a while Ogilvie upheld J. T. Lang and scorned the Federal party. Other Tasmanian Laborites put all their faith in Douglas Credit. The rifts closed somewhat before the 1934 election when Ogilvie's policy speech repudiated Lang and conveyed a sense of aggressive vitality. Yet Ogilvie offered few specific policies and Labor won only with the support of G. S. Carruthers, ex-Labor and now Douglasite.

Hitherto Ogilvie's career had little distinction, but as premier he proved a considerable and even remarkable success. His vigour contrasted with the ultra-conformism of other contemporary Australian governments: in his scale, Ogilvie became an F. D. Roosevelt. Impelling him was Tasmanian Labor's fondness for Douglasism, voiced notably by the treasurer E. Dwyer-Gray. Withal, Ogilvie dominated cabinet, taking no one portfolio but overseeing all.

Abolition of state secondary school fees was an early and visible move for state-led recovery from the Depression. Public service salaries were restored, in stages. Government much increased unemployment relief; men so paid were often used in public works, most famously in building the road to Mount Wellington's pinnacle.

Hydro-electric development meant much to Ogilvie's government. A highlight was the opening of Tarraleah station in February 1938; work also proceeded at Lake St Clair. In financing these and other activities Ogilvie benefited from the Commonwealth Grants Commission and the Loan Council. The major industrial development of the decade was in pulp and paper, Ogilvie himself orchestrating establishment of the Australian Newsprint Mills plant at Boyer, southern Tasmania.

The premier sensed 'life-quality' issues. Liquor-trading threw off restrictions imposed during World War I. Ogilvie encouraged the shorter working week, including a full Saturday holiday. The Royal Hobart Hospital was flamboyantly rebuilt, and health services otherwise improved. The period saw educational changes as diverse as establishment of rural 'area' schools and academics gaining substantial authority within the university. Ogilvie's interest in tourism made him ardent that Tasmania show a bright face. Parliament beavered away—the 1935 session saw 119 bills and 99 Acts.

Ogilvie did not always win: he failed to rationalize transport or curtail Tasmania's Legislative Council; unemployment relief cost more than he liked; left-wing unionists were hostile within the party and 'the politics of push' remained evident in Ogilvie's political tactics and personal life. He worked through public-service allies and a 'kitchen cabinet'. The balance went clear to credit. All economic indicators rose. In February 1937 Labor won a decisive electoral victory, opening the way for retention of office until 1969. In 1937 also the government appointed Harold Crisp chief justice, despite the past.

Ogilvie travelled overseas extensively in 1935 and briefly in 1937. His accounts of the earlier trip report interestingly on totalitarian Europe: more sympathy went to Russia than to Italy or Germany. By 1938 Ogilvie became outspoken in urging rearmament. Thereby he showed unusual preparedness to offend political opinion, from sources as various as radical unionism and the Catholic Church.

Ogilvie's place in Tasmanian consciousness became evident at his sudden death from angina pectoris at Warburton, Victoria, on 10 June 1939. Some spoke of the possibility that he might yet have shaped Federal politics (although possibly his intent was to become the State's next chief justice). Edmund Morris Miller eulogized him: Ogilvie had 'demolished the signs of ancient days and aroused a modern outlook'. Among those at the massively attended funeral in Hobart was Dame Enid Lyons; her husband and Ogilvie had found some reconciliation before their near-coincident deaths.

On 16 October 1920 in Hobart with Catholic rites Ogilvie had married Dorothy Mabel Hines; she and their daughter survived him. His estate was valued for probate at £9805. Public subscription raised the statue of Ogilvie (by S. J. Hammond) which stands in Parliament Gardens, Hobart; while a majority in parliament approved ancillary costs, some dissidents invoked shabbier aspects of the man's story.

Select Bibliography

  • Official Visit of the Premier of Tasmania (Hob, 1936)
  • N. W. Lamidey, Partial Success (Canb, 1970)
  • R. P. Davis, Eighty Years' Labor (Hob, 1983)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1927-28 (31)
  • Labour History, no 17, 1970
  • Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 25, nos 2 and 3 (1978), 26, no 1 (1979)
  • M. Roe, ‘A. G. Ogilvie and the Blend of Van Diemen's Land with Tasmania’, Bulletin of the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, 1, no 2, 1986
  • Mercury (Hobart), 12-15 June 1939.

Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Ogilvie, Albert George (1890–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ogilvie-albert-george-7889/text13717, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014