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Harry Frank (Jim) Broadbent (1910–1958)

by Keith Isaacs

This article was published:

Harry Frank Broadbent (1910-1958), by Sam Hood, 1936

Harry Frank Broadbent (1910-1958), by Sam Hood, 1936

State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away - 13580 [detail]

Harry Frank (Jim) Broadbent (1910-1958), aviator, was born on 25 March 1910 at Chiswick, London, son of Joseph Gibbs, a music-hall vocalist known as 'Frank Harwood', and his wife Madge Adelaide (d.1928), daughter of Harry Rickards. Educated at Wychwood College, Bournemouth, Harry was brought to Australia after his parents' divorce. In 1923 his mother married John Allan Broadbent, of Windella station, Narrandera; henceforward her son preferred to be known as 'Jim Broadbent'.

Inspired by the 1928 flights of Bert Hinkler and (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith, he joined the New South Wales section of the Australian Aero Club, and received a private pilot's licence on 20 November 1929. Next year he went to England, but was frustrated in his attempt to break Kingsford Smith's England-Australia record. Back in Australia, Broadbent bought an Avro Avian in 1931. On 12 August he flew solo from Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, linking the cities for the first time by air in one day. Within a month he set a round-Australia record by flying 7475 miles (12,030 km) in 7 days, 8 hours, 25 minutes. On 31 December that year he married Beryl Elizabeth Bower at St Jude's Anglican Church, Randwick.

After winning the annual New South Wales Aerial Derby on 14 May 1932, Broadbent purchased a three-seat Puss Moth monoplane. He obtained a commercial licence and started an air taxi service, but all Puss Moths were grounded, pending accident investigations. He acquired and trained racehorses until the ban was lifted. Having won the Victorian Aerial Derby on 18 March 1933, he reactivated his air taxi service.

On 17-20 May 1935 Broadbent flew 7140 miles (11,491 km) round Australia in his new Puss Moth in the astonishing time of 3 days, 9 hours, 54 minutes (a record that remains unbroken). Leaving Darwin on 10 October, his aircraft was damaged near Basra, Iraq, and he continued to England by Imperial Airways Ltd. A simultaneous take-off from Croydon was made on 2 November by Broadbent and Charles Melrose in Percival Gulls. Broadbent reached Darwin on 9 November, reducing 'Smithy's' 1933 England-Australia solo record to 6 days, 21 hours, 19 minutes, and was awarded the Oswald Watt gold medal for 1935.

Next year Broadbent joined Butler Air Transport Co. and flew the Charleville-Cootamundra section of the England-Australia airmail route. Meanwhile, a friendly rivalry had developed between him and the New Zealand aviatrix Jean Batten. She broke his 1935 England-Australia record in October 1936, but he regained it by lowering the time to 6 days, 8 hours, 25 minutes (27 April-3 May 1937) in his Leopard Moth, Windella. On 18-24 October Batten cut his record to 5 days, 18 hours, 15 minutes. Broadbent had to abandon two attempts to break her record. Determinedly, he then flew a Vega Gull out of Darwin on 18 April 1938 and landed in England on the 22nd: his time was 5 days, 4 hours, 21 minutes. His achievement was the last of the pre-World War II record flights on the England-Australia-England routes and his time remains a record for its class.

In 1938-39 Broadbent piloted flying boats between Sydney and Singapore for Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. He served with Royal Air Force Ferry Command, conveying aircraft from Canada and the United States of America to Britain and Australia (1941-43), and flew Lockheed Electras for the allied Directorate of Air Transport (1943-44).

Having divorced his wife in July 1948, Broadbent married 24-year-old Meris Chilcott Rudder at St John's Presbyterian Church, Wahroonga, on 27 January 1950. He took her to England in 1952 and flew Bristol freighters with Silver City Airways. In November 1954 he began piloting Short Solent flying boats for Aquila Airways Ltd from Southampton to Lisbon, Madeira and Las Palmas. From 29 September 1958 he was attached as an instructor to the Portuguese airline, Artop. On 9 November that year Broadbent reported that he was making an emergency landing in a Martin Mariner flying boat in the Atlantic, west of Portugal. No trace of the aircraft, crew or passengers was ever found. His wife, and the two daughters of his first marriage, survived him.

Jim Broadbent was essentially shy and kept to himself. He had endeavoured to avoid publicity. The Australian aviatrix Nancy Bird recalled that he read detective stories on his long flights and was always anxious to get back into the air to find out 'who dunnit' (he called his English home, The Case is Altered). Nancy and Jean Batten regarded Jim as 'the best sportsman they had ever met'. The meticulously prepared strip-maps which he used for his record-breaking flights are held by the National Library of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Bird, Born to Fly (Syd, 1961)
  • J. Batten, Alone in the Sky (Auckland, NZ, 1979)
  • N. M. Parnell and T. Boughton, Flypast (Canb, 1988)
  • Aircraft (Melbourne), 1929-39
  • Flight (London), 1930-39
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Aug 1931, 21 May 1935, 14 Oct, 4, 5 May 1937, 18, 19 Mar, 25 Apr, 6 May 1938, 11 July 1941, 11 Nov 1958
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Keith Isaacs, 'Broadbent, Harry Frank (Jim) (1910–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 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

Harry Frank Broadbent (1910-1958), by Sam Hood, 1936

Harry Frank Broadbent (1910-1958), by Sam Hood, 1936

State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away - 13580 [detail]

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gibbs, Harry Frank

25 March, 1910
London, Middlesex, England


9 November, 1958 (aged 48)
at sea

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.