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Plowman, Sir Claude (1895–1954)

by T. H. Irving

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Claude Plowman (1895-1954), by unknown photographer, 1953

Claude Plowman (1895-1954), by unknown photographer, 1953

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L15702

Sir Claude Plowman (1895-1954), businessman and yachtsman, was born on 14 April 1895 in Hobart, eldest of three children of Thomas William Scudder, storekeeper, and his wife Mary Isabel, née Crow. By 1899 Thomas Scudder had changed his surname to Plowman. Claude was educated at Queen's College and Hobart Technical School. During World War I he served at sea as a marine engineer. After visiting the United States of America to study the manufacture of radios, he settled in Sydney where he worked as a manufacturer's agent and (from 1926) as an electrical engineer. On 9 July 1925 he married Ruth Anna Hassell with Presbyterian forms at Randwick. As chairman and managing director, he established in 1931 Airzone Ltd, which built radios at Camperdown. At different stages in World War II the factory produced instruments for testing radar and electrical communications, assembled grenades and made asdic equipment.

Plowman's passion was sailing. In 1922 he was a director and rear commodore of the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club. He sailed Sea Rover until about 1941. In 1929 he joined the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Although he won several of the squadron's trophies in his 6-metre, Sjo-Ro, he was best known for his successes with the cutter, Morna, which he bought from (Sir) Frank Packer about 1941. Built for Sir Alexander MacCormick in 1913, Morna was 64 ft (19.5 m) in length, with an 85-ft (26 m) mast and a beam of 13 ft (4 m). Her blue and gold racing flag commemorated his wife's Swedish family background. In World War II Morna carried the Royal Australian Air Force roundel as a sign that she was used to instruct members of the Air Training Corps in seamanship. Plowman was deputy-commandant of the Sydney Harbour Bomber Observers and helped to set up a branch of the Royal Australian Naval Auxiliary Patrol in Hobart. He also spent time in England as an Australian Comforts Fund commissioner.

As a senior member of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, Plowman was prominent in the 1945 discussions that led to the establishment of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race. He skippered Morna for three successive 'first across the line' wins, beginning in 1946. In the 1948 race Morna carried a crew of sixteen (including a shipwright) in 'luxurious comfort', as well as tools and materials for repairs, and sufficient provisions for a month at sea. Plowman's attention to detail was legendary—every member of the crew was given a typed copy of his duties before and during the race. After his 1948 win, he told the press that the race should be held every two years, as it was 'a heavy cost' and 'a lot of people cannot spend every Christmas away from home'. A 'stickler for discipline', Plowman was accorded the deference due to a 'master of an ocean-going liner'. Just a few hours after he crossed the line on New Year's Eve 1948, for his third Sydney-Hobart win, his knighthood (recommended by the Tasmanian government) was announced.

When his firm was taken over by Electricity Meter & Allied Industries Ltd (later Email Ltd) in 1946, Plowman remained as manager of Airzone, which in the late 1940s had a large factory at Silverwater. He was chairman of Sealanes Pty Ltd and Silverwater Rubber Co. Pty Ltd, and a director of Wondercakes Pty Ltd and British Oil Engines (Australasia) Pty Ltd. In 1953 he was vice-president of the Employers' Federation of New South Wales.

Lady Plowman was a notable society hostess and a patron of musicians and painters. Sunday cruises in Morna gave Plowman the opportunity to offer lunch, as a 'polite and gracious' host, to many foreign visitors. He belonged to the Australian, American National and Elanora Country clubs, the Royal Sydney and Australian golf clubs, and the Tasmanian Club, Hobart. Plowman died of cancer on 5 September 1954 at his Darling Point home and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife, and their son and daughter survived him. Morna, renamed Kurrewa IV by the Livingston brothers, was first across the line in four more Sydney-Hobart races.

Select Bibliography

  • Email Ltd, The Email Group-Australia (Syd, 1956)
  • P. R. Stephenson (compiler), Sydney Sails (Syd, 1962)
  • L. D'Alpuget, Yachting in Australia (Melb, 1980)
  • Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Annual Report, 1942
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 June 1934, 4 Sept 1942, 9 Aug 1945, 1, 3 Jan 1949, 10 Feb 1951, 24 Oct 1953, 7 Sept 1954, 3 May 1955
  • Examiner (Launceston), 1 Jan 1949
  • Mercury (Hobart), 3 Jan 1949
  • PCS 1/39, item 79/9/48, PCS 19/1, item 4/19 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Citation details

T. H. Irving, 'Plowman, Sir Claude (1895–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/plowman-sir-claude-11436/text20381, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 16 January 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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