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Sir Ernest Clark (1864–1951)

by John Reynolds

This article was published:

Ernest Clark (1864-1951), by unknown photographer

Ernest Clark (1864-1951), by unknown photographer

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H22638

Sir Ernest Clark (1864-1951), governor of Tasmania, was born on 13 April 1864 at Plumstead, Kent, England, third son of Samuel Henry Clark, schoolmaster, and his wife Ann, née Leaver. Educated privately and at King's College, London, he entered the civil service in 1881 and was appointed assistant-surveyor of taxes in 1883. Called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1894, he joined the Treasury legal staff. In 1904-05 he was seconded to the government of Cape Colony to assist in planning new taxation procedures and similarly served the Union of South Africa government in 1910-11.

A Treasury liaison officer with the War Office and Ministry of Munitions during World War I, Clark was appointed C.B.E. in 1918 and assistant secretary of the Board of Inland Revenue and deputy chief inspector of taxes next year. He was secretary of the 1919-20 royal commission on income tax. Knighted in 1920, he served as assistant under-secretary of Ireland in 1920-21 and secretary of the Northern Ireland ministry of finance and head of the civil service in 1921-25. His congenial manner made him both popular and influential. It was largely due to his skill that the severance of financial relations between Dublin and Belfast was so amicably achieved; and his friendship with the leading Northern Irish peer and governor of Northern Ireland, the third Duke of Abercorn, assisted in easing relations between the new government and Downing Street. He was appointed K.C.B. in 1924. His expertise was again called on in 1930 when he became a member of the Joint Exchequer Board of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Clark visited Australia in 1928-29 as a member of the British economic mission invited by the Australian government to examine the economy. As an author of the subsequent report he deeply impressed the premier of Tasmania, J. A. Lyons. It may well have been due to the prompting of Lyons, as prime minister, in 1933, that Clark was offered the governorship of Tasmania, an office which lack of funds had kept vacant for the previous three years. The Federal government was seeking a return to the overseas loan market and Clark, already favourably known in Australia, was prominent in London business circles as a director of Martin's Bank, the London General Omnibus Co., the Pacific Steam Navigation Co., and the shipbuilding firm of Harland and Wolff. In accepting the position Clark agreed to the unusual condition of spending within the State a considerable sum from his private resources as well as part of his salary.

He proved an efficient and hard-working governor whose term was extended three times, although his first few years were marred by a lack of rapport with the premier A. G. Ogilvie. During his period in office Clark acted on occasion as unofficial adviser in regard to financial adjustments between the Tasmanian and Commonwealth governments. He developed an interest in Tasmanian history and visited every accessible district. A Freemason, he was installed Grand Master in 1935. While he cared little for 'social time-wasters' his door was always open to philanthropic groups. A photo of Clark as chief scout of Tasmania was requested by King George V.

He married Mary Winkfield, daughter of a London merchant, on 13 April 1899 at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, England. She shared his concern for community welfare, having before her marriage undertaken social work in the East End of London for the Ragged School Union and the Church Army. The greatest of her interests in Hobart was the Red Cross Society, in connexion with which she started a convalescent home, later named the Lady Clark Memorial Home, at Claremont; but she was patron or president of many other organizations including the Country Women's Association, State Council for Voluntary Aids, Tasmanian Sanitorium, Victoria League, National Council of Women of Tasmania, and Girl Guides' Association. A keen gardener and dancing enthusiast she was skilled in putting visitors to Government House at their ease. She died in 1944. The children's library service in Tasmania is known as the Lady Clark Memorial Children's Library.

After his retirement in 1945 Clark returned to England to settle at Tasmania, Seaton, Devon. On 8 January 1947 at the parish church, Seaton, he married Harriet Jessie Constance McLennan. He was active in local affairs as a member of the Devon County Council and was deeply interested in Ryalls Court Probationary School. Appointed K.C.M.G. in 1938 and G.C.M.G. in 1943 he died on 26 August 1951 at his home. He had no children. His ashes were sent to Hobart for interment in Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15, 16 Dec 1928, 13, 14, 15 Apr 1933
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 20 Apr 1933
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 Sept 1944, 27 Aug 1951, 16 Jan 1952
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 27 Aug 1951, p 6.

Citation details

John Reynolds, 'Clark, Sir Ernest (1864–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 June 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

Ernest Clark (1864-1951), by unknown photographer

Ernest Clark (1864-1951), by unknown photographer

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H22638

Life Summary [details]


13 April, 1864
Plumstead, Kent, England


26 August, 1951 (aged 87)
Seaton, Devon, England

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