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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Trumble, Thomas (1872–1954)

by Robert Hyslop

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Thomas Trumble (1872-1954), public servant, was born on 9 April 1872 at Ararat, Victoria, fifth child of Irish-born William Trumble, lunatic asylum superintendent, and his Scottish wife Elizabeth, née Clarke. The cricketer Hugh Trumble was his brother. Educated at Yarra Park State School and at Wesley College, Melbourne, Thomas was appointed clerk in the Victorian Public Service in September 1888. From 1891 he served in the defence department under (Sir) R. H. M. Collins, for a time as private secretary to the minister. On 5 April 1899 Trumble married Katherine Helen Hutchinson at St Columb's Anglican Church, Hawthorn.

In July 1901 Trumble transferred to the Commonwealth Department of Defence when his Victorian chief, Collins, became its secretary. From June 1910 as chief clerk he worked with the secretary (Sir) Samuel Pethebridge in putting into effect the policies of (Sir) George Pearce, especially on naval expansion and compulsory military training. Trumble was appointed acting secretary in November 1914. He was secretary of the department from February 1918 to July 1927. His career was dramatic. As a comparatively young acting head in 1914, he had come through the civil service, whereas his predecessors had both been naval officers. Trumble had new ground to break.

World War I brought an extraordinary expansion of his official burdens, particularly in wartime army administration and in the difficult post-war years when the Navy Office was returned to his jurisdiction. During the war some administrative errors were revealed by a royal commission, but Trumble was not personally criticized. Newspapers wrote of him in the highest terms and in 1915 and 1918 Melbourne Punch saw him as a hard worker who said little, did a great deal and who knew his department thoroughly. The demands upon Trumble were severe. They called for intense application over long hours, and required a detailed understanding of the defence system and personal knowledge of the qualifications of men to be selected for important work. In his official history of the war (Sir) Ernest Scott observed:

The part played in war by the chief of a secretariat can never be so spectacular as that of field officer, but the administrative work of Trumble … was marked by steady efficiency and a capacity for smooth collaboration with other departments and their administrators which was grounded in a considerate and unselfish disposition.

Pearce recorded that 'courteous and patient, self-sacrificing and zealous, [Trumble] has perhaps borne more of the heat and burden of the day than any other officer, civil or military'. Trumble was appointed C.B.E. in 1918 and C.M.G. in 1923.

In July 1927 he became official secretary to the high commission for Australia in London and travelled to Britain with Sir Granville Ryrie, the new high commissioner. Trumble exchanged positions with M. L. Shepherd. The transfer was the subject of public comment; questions were raised in parliament about the expense involved and why the change was necessary. In 1931 Trumble relinquished the secretaryship to become Australian Defence Liaison Officer in London, a move that was not welcomed by armed services personnel in Australia who saw it as displacing their senior liaison officers. Criticism of the appointment again put Trumble in the public eye, and Prime Minister Scullin had to reply to questions in the House. As a product of the Westminster system, Trumble did not relish such publicity. He retained the post, assisted by a junior officer from each of the services, until his retirement, at his own request, in December 1932.

Still remembered in 1940 for his warmth and friendliness when he had been departmental secretary, he was welcomed when he returned to Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, during World War II as director of voluntary services, Department of Defence Co-ordination in July 1940. He left the service in September 1943. Trumble was 'long of limb and lean of flank'; he had blue eyes, a 'perennial smile' and spoke with a disarming drawl. A good golfer, and in his younger days a fair cricketer, he had a 'legion' of friends. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died at Caulfield, Melbourne, on 2 July 1954 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Scott, Australia During the War (Syd, 1936)
  • R. Trumble, The Golden Age of Cricket (Melb, 1968)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 11 Mar 1931, p 48
  • London Gazette, 4 Oct 1918, 2 June 1923
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Nov 1937
  • Punch (Melbourne), 15 July 1915, 28 Feb 1918
  • Town and Country Journal, 27 Feb 1918
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13, 17, 31 May 1927
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13, 14, 17 May 1927, 17 Nov 1930, 14 Feb, 7 Mar 1931, 31 Dec 1932, 13 Jan 1933
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 May, 8 June 1927
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 July 1954
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 5 July 1954
  • Bulletin, 14 July 1954
  • A664/1, A1567/1, MP124/4, MP1162/3 (National Archives of Australia)
  • letter from Mrs G. Walker to Mr W. Perry, 3 June 1972 (privately held).

Citation details

Robert Hyslop, 'Trumble, Thomas (1872–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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