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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stokes, Sydney William (Syd) (1887–1972)

by Andrew Moore

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

Sydney William Stokes (1887-1972), surveyor, was born on 17 March 1887 at Newcastle, New South Wales, tenth child of native-born parents Henry Edward Stokes, merchant, and his wife Clara Maude, daughter of J. F. Josephson. Educated at Cooerwull Academy, Bowenfels, and at Sydney Grammar School, Syd passed first-year engineering at the University of Sydney. He sat the licensed surveyor's examination in 1912 before being articled to J. F. Foster of the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage. On 30 May 1914 at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney, he married Louisa Richards Cobcroft; they were to have a son and two daughters, and to live at Bellevue Hill for almost sixty years.

A man of conservative views, Stokes had been commissioned lieutenant, Australian Intelligence Corps, Militia, on 7 June 1910. He was promoted captain on 1 June 1914 and seconded for duty with the Intelligence Section, General Staff, in October. Appointed assistant-censor for New South Wales on 16 February 1915, he carried out 'confidential duties' for much of World War I as part of a large organization which scrutinized newspapers and intercepted correspondence, searching for evidence of espionage, labour militancy and trading with the enemy. He was mentioned in orders for his meritorious service. In October 1918 he was posted to the 17th Infantry Regiment. Transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 1 July 1921, he was placed on the Retired List five years later.

After the war, Stokes set up as a surveyor at 48 Elizabeth Street. From 1926 he practised in partnership with A. W. Miller. Their firm, S. W. Stokes & Miller, operated in Sydney's western suburbs, the northern beaches and central coast, and was increasingly involved in development projects in these areas. Stokes was business manager (1925-31), vice-president (1931-32) and president (1932-33) of the Institution of Surveyors, New South Wales. While president, he tried to increase its public standing. By 1939 he was also a local government engineer. Although he personally adhered to solo-surveying, he advocated the amalgamation of surveyors in private practice and foresaw the use of calculating machines within the profession. His business affairs were diverse. He dabbled in the stock market and suffered severe financial strain when the Riviera Co-operative Country Club Ltd collapsed in 1935.

An active Freemason, Stokes was worshipful master (1926-27) of the Double Bay Lodge, and a founder (1930) and member (until 1955) of the Old Sydneians' Lodge. In World War II he resumed the duties he had performed in the previous conflict. Working in the office of the Department of the Army's district censor, Sydney, he took charge of a large staff responsible for cable censorship. The deputy district censor praised his 'ability to organise and direct' and his 'energy, trustworthiness, judgment and ability'. In the 1950s Stokes was interested in the Australian Decentralisation and New States Movement. A fellow of the Town and Country Planning Institution of New South Wales, he was elected a life-member (1955) of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia. He died on 9 August 1972 at the War Memorial Hospital, Waverley, and was cremated; his wife and their daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, The Citizen General Staff (Canb, 1976)
  • Australian Surveyor, Mar 1933, Mar 1973
  • Newspaper News, 2 Oct 1939
  • Azimuth, Apr 1999
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Feb, 9 June 1932
  • K. Fewster, Expression and Suppression: Aspects of Military Censorship in Australia During the Great War (Ph.D. thesis, University of New South Wales, 1980)
  • Stokes papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Andrew Moore, 'Stokes, Sydney William (Syd) (1887–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

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