Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Purcell Clark (1876–1971)

by James B. Gale

This article was published:

James Purcell Clark (1876-1971), soldier, barrister and solicitor, was born on 2 February 1876 at Hobart, son of Alexander James Clark, cabinetmaker and later undertaker, and his wife Sarah Bennett, née Purcell. Educated at The Hutchins School and Christ's College, Hobart, he was articled to Dobson, Mitchell & Allport, barristers and solicitors, and admitted to practice by the Supreme Court of Tasmania on 5 March 1897. On 18 September 1902 at St George's Anglican Church, Hobart, he married May Rowland.

By 1902 Clark was in practice at Scottsdale where, in 1908-09, he was chairman of the town board and in 1911 a municipal councillor. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the 12th Australian Infantry Regiment (Scottsdale Company) in 1906, was promoted lieutenant two years later, and was made captain in the 92nd (Launceston) Regiment in 1913. On the outbreak of World War I he was given command of the garrison at Fort Nelson, then in July 1915 entered Claremont Camp for enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force. From September to February 1916 he commanded the A.I.F. camp at Ross and on 7 March was appointed captain in the newly formed 40th Battalion; he was promoted major and second-in-command in May and embarked for overseas service in July.

The 40th reached France in November and served in the Armentières-Bois Grenier sector until March 1917; during this period Clark was intelligence officer. By April he was at Ploegsteert, Belgium, then in June commanded the battalion in the battle of Messines. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in August, he was transferred to the 44th Battalion as commanding officer and led the unit in the battle of Broodseinde on 3-4 October; he was wounded in action when a shell exploded in his headquarters. Resuming duty late in November, he commanded the battalion throughout 1918, seeing action at Morlancourt, Villers-Bretonneux, Hamel, Péronne and the final battles of the Hindenburg Line. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the King's Birthday honours in June and was also mentioned in dispatches. From February 1919 he commanded the Australian Base at Le Havre until he embarked for Australia in August.

After demobilization Clark kept up a part-time association with the Australian Military Forces. In 1920 he was lieutenant-colonel in temporary command of the 5th Battalion, 40th Regiment, and he later led the 51st Battalion until June 1922. That year he was awarded the Long Service Decoration, and in 1923 the Volunteer Officers' Decoration; he was transferred to the reserve of officers in 1927. In 1920 he had joined the Solicitor-General's Department in Hobart; from 1930 he held appointments as police magistrate, commissioner of the courts of requests, chairman of licensing courts, coroner and warden of mines. in 1940-45 he was police magistrate at Hobart and then went into private practice.

Survived by two daughters, and predeceased by his wife and their only son, he died on 6 February 1971 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • F. C. Green, The Fortieth: A Record of the 40th Battalion, A.I.F. (Hob, 1922)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917-18 (Syd, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 28 May, 3 June 1918
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8 Feb 1971
  • J. P. Clark file (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

James B. Gale, 'Clark, James Purcell (1876–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1876
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


6 February, 1971 (aged 95)
Hobart, Tasmania, 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.