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Sir Hector Joseph Clayton (1885–1975)

by Andrew Moore

This article was published:

Hector Joseph Richard Clayton (1885-1975), by unknown photographer, c1963

Hector Joseph Richard Clayton (1885-1975), by unknown photographer, c1963

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/779

Sir Hector Joseph Richard Clayton (1885-1975), solicitor, army officer and politician, was born on 3 June 1885 at Surry Hills, Sydney, fourth child and elder of twin sons of native-born parents John Horatio Clayton, solicitor, and his wife Isabella, née Woodward. Educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1907; LL.B., 1910), Hector was articled to his father on 6 March 1907, admitted as a solicitor on 20 February 1911 and practised in partnership with his father.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 14 August 1914, Clayton was commissioned on 9 September and posted to the 4th Battalion. He embarked for Egypt in October as a captain and took part in the landing on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, but was wounded in action on 22 May and served in Egypt as an embarkation officer until June 1916. Transferred to the Western Front, he was promoted major in November, commanded the 4th Division Base (as temporary lieutenant colonel from October 1917) and performed administrative duties in England from June 1918. Clayton was mentioned in dispatches (1917). On 24 July 1917 he had married Phyllis Edith Midwood at the parish church, Market Drayton, Shropshire; they were to have four children.

After his appointment terminated in Sydney on Armistice Day 1919, Clayton's legal career flourished. He was a partner in Clayton & Utz (1920-24) and in Clayton, Utz & Co. (1924-75). In 1936 he was elected to the Legislative Council; he resigned from the United Australia Party because he believed that the council should be a non-partisan house of review. On the Reserve of Officers, Clayton was mobilized on 4 September 1939. Having briefly commanded Holdsworthy Detention Camp, he was posted to staff duties and from July 1942 commanded the 1st Movement Control Group in the New South Wales Lines of Communication Area. He was placed on the Retired List as honorary colonel in August 1945.

His political ambitions and achievements were modest. As a solicitor and councillor of the Incorporated Law Institute of New South Wales (1933-43), Clayton was effective in ensuring that the Legislative Council protected the interests of other professional groups. His infrequent speeches were invariably characterized by 'gentlemanly behaviour', although his critics accused him of pedantry. His most significant achievement lay in his resourceful contribution to frustrating the Australian Labor Party's attempts to abolish the Upper House. In 1959-60 he led the resistance through the Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia; in April 1961 the people of New South Wales voted in a referendum for the council's retention.

In 1960 Clayton had allowed himself to be appointed 'Principal Representative of Members who are not supporters of the [Labor] Government', a position he held in the council for two years. Dismayed by the Liberal Party's methods of selecting leaders, he arranged for Brigadier T. A. J. Playfair to nominate him in August 1966 as president of the Upper House. Aged 81, mustachioed, heavily jowled and somewhat corpulently proportioned, Colonel Clayton was about to attain the peak of his political career, but, on the morning of the crucial council meeting, Playfair suffered a fatal heart attack. Stunned, and grieving for his old friend, Clayton declined to contest the election. He was knighted in 1968 and retired from the council in 1973.

Influential in commercial circles from the 1930s, he had been a director of several insurance companies and of Australian Guarantee Corporation Ltd (1942-73). As its chairman, he presided over Australia's largest finance company at a time when the 'use of instalment credit spread almost like a contagion in Australia'. With G. K. Bain, Clayton was enthusiastic about the rise in 'consumer demand' for this type of financial service and in 1957 led the firm into a profitable relationship with the Bank of New South Wales. During the 1961 credit squeeze he was able to announce that A.G.C. had built one of Sydney's first skyscrapers and had still made a net profit of £1,285,244. He remained an implacable opponent of other drains on working-class finances, such as poker machines.

Sir Hector's recreations included bowls and gardening. He was a member of the Australian, University and Royal Sydney Golf clubs, and a trustee of the War Widows' Guild of Australia. Survived by his two sons and a daughter, he died on 18 July 1975 at Paddington and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Turner, House of Review? (Syd, 1969)
  • G. Whitwell, Making the Market (Melb, 1989)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Apr 1958, 14 July 1961, 15 Nov 1972, 9-11 Aug 1966, 19 July 1975
  • Sun (Sydney), 4 Aug 1961
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 Aug 1966.

Citation details

Andrew Moore, 'Clayton, Sir Hector Joseph (1885–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 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

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