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Henry Priaulx Cayley (1877–1942)

by Margot Z. Simington

This article was published:

Henry Cayley, n.d.

Henry Cayley, n.d.

photo from Royal Australian Navy

Henry Priaulx Cayley (1877-1942), naval officer, was born on 29 December 1877 at Clifton, Bristol, England, son of Henry Cayley, surgeon major in the Indian Medical Service, and his wife Letitia Mary, née Walters. Educated at Eastman's Naval Academy, he joined the Royal Navy's training ship Britannia in 1891 as a cadet and was promoted midshipman in 1893 and sub-lieutenant in 1897. His early sea-going appointments were to the Mediterranean Station and the Channel Fleet; then in 1899, after being commissioned lieutenant, he served on H.M.S. Undaunted during the Boxer Rebellion. On 14 July 1906 he married Ethel Mary Hewitt at Kensington, London.

In 1909 Cayley, now a lieutenant, was posted to the Australian Station as the Royal Navy's inspector of warlike stores. To take advantage of better career opportunities, he resigned in mid-1912 and joined the newly established Royal Australian Navy, retaining the position of inspector of warlike stores; in due course he was appointed lieutenant-commander. When war broke out next year he was made an acting commander and sailed with the first Australian convoy as transport officer on the troopship Euripides; he was transferred to H.M.S. Isis in January 1915 and promoted commander in April. In March 1917 he was appointed second-in-command to Captain John S. Dumaresq in H.M.A.S. Sydney, then carrying out patrol and convoy duties in the North Sea. Sydney engaged no enemy ships, though Cayley, in typically humorous fashion, reported 'differences of opinion' between his ship and a Zeppelin which 'amused herself by sitting up overhead, well out of range, and thoroughly bombing us'.

He was promoted captain on 1 April 1919 and took command of the Sydney. He was a popular but firm commander, who took a humane interest in his men. In June, when the Sydney was returning home, Cayley was asked to help quell civil riots in the Straits Settlements. He promptly supplied landing parties at Singapore and Penang, and as a means of quietening unrest, is said to have ridden by rickshaw, in full uniform, through the streets of Penang. In November the Sydney grounded (without damage) at Townsville, Queensland, and Cayley and his navigating officer were court-martialled and reprimanded for negligence; the findings against the navigator were quashed on appeal, but those against Cayley were confirmed. He was held solely responsible for the incident; however, he retained the confidence of Dumaresq, who was then commodore commanding the Australian Fleet, and the mishap does not appear to have prejudiced his chances of preferment.

In 1922-23 Cayley was captain-in-charge at Flinders Naval Depot, Victoria, and then went to England for twelve months training. On his return he was appointed second naval member, one of the few R.A.N. men to serve before 1939 on the Australian Naval Board; appropriately, he concerned himself mainly with personnel matters. In May 1927 he became commander of H.M.A.S. Melbourne, then in October was made captain superintendent in Sydney. He was posted back to London in 1929 as naval representative on the Australian high commissioner's staff but, when his position was retrenched during Depression cuts in defence spending, he retired on 7 August 1931 in the rank of rear admiral. He spent the rest of his life in England and in retirement devoted himself to Christian Science, the study of which had led him to abandon the Catholic faith and to become a teetotaller. Survived by his son, he died of pulmonary embolism on 31 December 1942 at his home in Chelsea.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Jose, The Royal Australian Navy 1914-1918 (Syd, 1928)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1919, 30 Apr, 30 May 1924, 8 Oct 1927, 18 July 1929, 12, 14 Feb 1931, 4 Jan 1943
  • Naval Board, Minutes, 1922-31 (National Archives of Australia)
  • MP150/1 437/201/252, MP472 5/15/2871, 5/20/7714, 5/20/10863, MP1049/2 303/1/14 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margot Z. Simington, 'Cayley, Henry Priaulx (1877–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 May 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

Henry Cayley, n.d.

Henry Cayley, n.d.

photo from Royal Australian Navy

Life Summary [details]


29 December, 1877
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England


31 December, 1942 (aged 65)
London, Middlesex, England

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