Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Lord Chapman (1913–1977)

by Selwyn Cornish

This article was published:

John Lord Chapman (1913-1977), business administrator and trade commissioner, was born on 7 May 1913 at Balmain North, Sydney, son of Michael Ernest Chapman, a shipwright from England, and his native-born wife Clara Ellen, née Lord. Educated at Sydney Boys' High School and the University of Sydney (B.Ec., 1936; LL.B., 1950), John worked as an accountant and as assistant-secretary to the Motor Traders' Association of New South Wales Inc. He married a stenographer Helen Roy McAlpin on 4 May 1940 at Grimm Memorial Church, Drummoyne, with Presbyterian forms. In 1941 he enlisted in the Citizen Air Force of the Royal Australian Air Force. Commissioned in December 1942, Chapman qualified as a navigator under the Empire Air Training Scheme and was a temporary flight lieutenant when demobilized on 10 September 1945.

Leaving the M.T.A. in 1951, he became assistant to the general manager of Clyde Industries Ltd. On 14 December 1956 he was appointed Australian government trade commissioner at Calcutta, India. He took up the post in May 1957 and in October was rebuked by (Sir) John Crawford, secretary to the Department of Trade, for his 'approach which may at times be slightly brusque in an Asian setting'. Reports, however, soon reached Canberra from Australian businessmen expressing gratitude for Chapman's assistance. At the end of his tour in August 1959, he was praised for his efforts by the governor of West Bengal, the Australian high commissioner and the British deputy high commissioner.

Chapman's next posting was as trade commissioner at Johannesburg, South Africa, where he spent two terms between December 1959 and September 1966. Again, he was attentive to the requirements of Australian businessmen who sought markets in the region. Although he had been briefed against engaging in political conversation, he did not conceal his opposition to the South African government's apartheid policy and later acknowledged the difficulty of living in that country. After returning home, he was ruled medically unfit for service in the tropics. A diabetes sufferer, he had to fight to gain admission to the Commonwealth superannuation scheme. From 1968 to 1972 he was trade commissioner at Vancouver, Canada: he found the post congenial, and succeeded in boosting Australian exports, and in fostering contacts between Australian and Canadian businessmen.

Gregarious and affable, Chapman excelled at promotional work on behalf of individual firms, but exhibited less acumen in policy and administrative matters. He was popular both with his subordinates and superiors. After an inauspicious start, he became one of his country's most highly regarded trade representatives working abroad. Of average height and well built, he wore a thick moustache in the style once favoured by air force officers. Back in Australia, ill health obliged him to retire on 1 July 1976. D. H. McKay, secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade, thanked him for his 'loyal and conscientious contribution', and noted that his knowledge and experience would not easily be replaced. Survived by his wife and son, Chapman died of cardiac infarction on 22 March 1977 in his home at Deakin, Canberra, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Senate, Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce, Australian Trade Commissioner Service (Canb, 1978)
  • A. R. Taysom, History of the Australian Trade Commissioner Service, 5 vols (typescript, no date, National Library of Australia)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Feb 1957, 28 Sept 1959
  • Canberra Times, 25 Mar 1977
  • Chapman personal file (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Selwyn Cornish, 'Chapman, John Lord (1913–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 April 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]


7 May, 1913
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


22 March, 1977 (aged 63)
Deakin, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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.