Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harold Patrick Breen (1893–1966)

by D. P. Blaazer

This article was published:

Harold Patrick Breen (1893-1966), public servant, was born on 30 April 1893 at Richmond, Melbourne, son of Patrick Breen, fellmonger, and his wife Catherine, née McSweeney, both Victorian born. Educated at St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, on 23 December 1910 Harold entered the Commonwealth Public Service as a clerk in the ordnance branch of the Department of Defence. He studied accountancy at night-school and in 1917-21 was secretary of the department's district contract board.

While with the munitions supply board, in 1926 Breen began a major survey of the capability of commercial industry to produce military equipment. Before completing the task, he transferred to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, becoming an assistant-secretary. In 1940 he was made assistant-secretary in the Department of Supply and Development, and next year moved to the Department of Munitions where he administered the stores and transport branch. Shifting to the Department of Postwar Reconstruction, he was director of the secondary industries division from 1945 and of industrial development from 1947. He was appointed secretary, Department of Supply and Development, in August 1949. On the establishment of the Department of Defence Production in May 1951, he became its first permanent head. Breen was appointed C.B.E. in 1953 and retired in 1957.

Believing in his country's capacity for self-reliance, particularly in defence, Breen contributed to that goal through his work. He was an early advocate of the need for Australia to recognize its relationship to Asia. Although he made no secret of his Labor sympathies, and his admiration for John Curtin and Ben Chifley, he ranked Howard Beale, a Liberal, among his favourite ministers. Beale in turn considered him to be 'upright', 'conscientious, scholarly, articulate and intelligent, and a good if somewhat wintry administrator'. Breen could be fiery when others failed to meet his ideals. A tallish, handsome man, with hazel eyes and dark, curly hair, he was a keen sports follower and a bushwalker.

His personal life was marred by tragedy. On 18 March 1916 he had married Agnes Rose O'Sullivan in St Joseph's Catholic Church, Collingwood; she died of tuberculosis in 1923, leaving him with three daughters. He married Rosa Marguerita Maree Carrodus on 1 March 1930 in St John's Church, East Melbourne. In 1934 Rosa died in childbirth and the baby also died. Ten years later Breen's eldest daughter died of tuberculosis. On 20 May 1957 in St Gabriel's Church, Reservoir, he married a 48-year-old public servant Constance Jessie Gillespie.

Breen wrote an unpublished autobiography, 'The Years After'. A devout Catholic, he bequeathed money to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He died of diffuse interstitial pulmonary fibrosis on 6 July 1966 at Malvern and was buried in St Kilda cemetery; his wife survived him, as did two daughters of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • H. Beale, This Inch of Time (Melb, 1977)
  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1977)
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 July 1966
  • private information.

Citation details

D. P. Blaazer, 'Breen, Harold Patrick (1893–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 April, 1893
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


6 July, 1966 (aged 73)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.