Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gerald Ross Campbell (1858–1942)

by John Barrett

This article was published:

Gerald Ross Campbell (1858-1942), barrister, soldier and publicist, was born on 21 July 1858 at Paddington, Sydney, son of Scottish parents Alexander Campbell and his second wife Sarah Robertson, née Murray. Educated in Scotland at the Royal Academy, Tain, County Ross and Cromarty, and at Craigmount House School, Edinburgh, he returned to attend the University of Sydney and graduated B.A. in 1880 with first-class honours in classics (M.A., 1884). Admitted to the Bar on 31 October 1882, he practised at Denman Chambers and joined the Australian Club. On 25 August 1897 at St Cuthbert's parish church, Bedfordshire, England, he married Mary Fraser Stewart; she bore him two sons and died in 1902. On 26 April 1905 in Sydney he married Marion Veitch Mein; they were childless.

More interested in soldiering than the law, Campbell had helped to raise the 1st Regiment, New South Wales Scottish Rifles, in 1885 and next year was commissioned captain. Promoted major in 1894 and lieutenant-colonel in 1898, he commanded the regiment until 1907. As colonel he commanded the Sydney Fortress (Garrison Troops) in 1907-09.

Campbell fiercely believed in universal, adult military training on the Swiss system and in 1905 took the initiative in forming the New South Wales division of the Australian National Defence League; he was joint honorary secretary with W. M. Hughes. Although Hughes sometimes stumped the country for the league, Campbell was its real head and heart. Single-minded and tireless in his advocacy, he badgered every prime minister and minister for defence: he repudiated the Victorian division for trying voluntarism first and feuded with (Sir) George Reid for equivocating on the issue. When thwarted, he was caustic. 'There is going to be a good deal of trouble', (Sir) Thomas Ewing, minister for defence in 1908, warned him, 'but stick to it, and in public give your advice in the friendliest way you can. You are rather inclined to write in Doric'. Campbell edited the league's quarterly journal, the Call, and listed Federal election candidates who were 'sound' on defence. At its zenith in 1909 the league had nineteen branches and some 1500 members, but suddenly diminished in membership after the Defence Act that year provided for compulsory training of youths.

In 1914 Campbell was appointed to the State committee for the selection of officers for the Australian Imperial Force. In 1915 and 1916-17 he served with the Sea Transport Service as officer commanding troops for two voyages to Egypt and England, and retired from the army as honorary brigadier general in 1920. Meanwhile the league advocated conscription and in 1919 raised its voice against any reduction in compulsory training but it was feeble and out of harmony with the times. Campbell remained honorary secretary until its demise in 1938.

After the war he lived at The Dell, Moss Vale, where he was largely content to garden and to administer his father's estate. After suffering from paralysis agitans for fourteen years, Campbell died at his home on 30 November 1942 and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Bong Bong cemetery. He was survived by his second wife, and by his sons: the younger, Major General Ian Ross Campbell, C.B.E., D.S.O., served with distinction in Crete in World War II and in Korea, and became commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian National Defence League (New South Wales Division), minute books and correspondence, 1905-38 (Australian War Memorial)
  • records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Barrett, 'Campbell, Gerald Ross (1858–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 July, 1858
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 November, 1942 (aged 84)
Moss Vale, New South Wales, Australia

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