Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Montagu Christian Corlette (1880–1969)

by P. J. Greville

This article was published:

James Montagu Christian Corlette (1880-1969), soldier and engineer, was born on 25 August 1880 at Ashfield, Sydney, fifth son of Rev. James Christian Corlette, a native-born and Oxford-educated Anglican clergyman, and his wife Frances Edith, daughter of Sir William Manning. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney where he graduated B.E. with honours in civil engineering in 1902 and mining and metallurgy in 1903. For eighteen months he demonstrated in the university engineering school, then lectured at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines, Western Australia. In 1908 he returned to New South Wales and joined the engineering staff of the Hunter District Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

A notable sportsman, Corlette rowed in the Grammar crew and played Rugby football for his school and, in 1900-05, for the university, which he also represented at rifle-shooting. He captained the Western Australian Rugby XV against a New South Wales side in 1907 and next year played for Northern Districts of New South Wales against an Anglo-Welsh team. In his later years he was prominent at bowls.

Corlette had been sergeant major in the Sydney University Scouts Rifle Corps, and in May 1906 was commissioned second lieutenant in the Goldfields Infantry Regiment of Western Australia; in 1908 he transferred to the 4th Australian Infantry Regiment, Newcastle, New South Wales. Promoted lieutenant, he joined the Australian Intelligence Corps in December and was in charge of the survey and mapping of 750 sq. miles (1942 km²) round Newcastle. A captain from January 1910, he spent six months training in India in 1911-12 and attended the coronation Durbar at Delhi. In 1913 he transferred to the Australian Engineers and was promoted major. On 28 August 1914 he was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force, as a captain. Before sailing for Egypt, he married Ruby Saunders (d.1961), daughter of the editor of the Newcastle Morning Herald, on 17 September at St James Church, Sydney. She served for two and a half years full-time duty with the Voluntary Aid Detachment at St Dunstan's Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors in London during World War I, and was awarded the British War Medal.

Corlette's own war record was both distinguished and gallant. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and was promoted major in July, commanding the 1st Field Company. He was invalided with enteric fever in October, eventually to Egypt; from March 1916, as temporary lieutenant-colonel, he organized and commanded the 4th Pioneer Battalion and transferred in May to the Engineering Training Depot at Tel-el-Kebir; in July he joined the 2nd Australian Engineers in France for the first battle of the Somme. In September he joined the staff of the chief engineer of the 1st Anzac Corps Headquarters at Abeele, Belgium. Confirmed in rank, he was commanding royal engineer of the 2nd Australian Division in France and Belgium from 4 July 1917 until he was demobilized on 31 August 1919. He was five times mentioned in dispatches, awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1917 and the Croix de Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur in 1919 and that year was appointed C.M.G.

Corlette returned to the Hunter District Water Supply and Sewerage Board, and was chief engineer in 1925-45. He designed and constructed Tomago Sandbeds water-supply for Newcastle, pioneered the use of 54 in. (137 cm) continuously welded steel water-mains and completed sewerage works for Wallsend, Kurri Kurri, Belmont, Toronto, Cardiff and Boolaroo. He was a foundation member of the Northern Engineering Institute of New South Wales, and contributed technical articles on military bridge-building and surveying to its journal. After it became the Newcastle division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, he was a committee-member in 1920-69 and president in 1927-28. He also served on the council of the institution in 1927-59 and was president in 1930.

Corlette was appointed C.R.E. of 2nd Division, Australian Military Forces, as a lieutenant-colonel, in 1921. Promoted colonel on 1 May 1926, he commanded the 1st Infantry Brigade until 1932, and as a brigadier administered the command of 1st Division at Victoria Barracks, Sydney, in 1932-33; he was awarded the Volunteer Officers' Decoration in 1923. During World War II he served with the Volunteer Defence Corps and was on full-time duty in 1941-43 as group commander of the Newcastle area.

Corlette was also a fellow of the Australian Planning Institute and president of its Newcastle division in 1954; he strongly advocated and carried out tree-planting for shade and environmental purposes. He took a keen interest in returned soldiers and in 1927-56 was president of the United Service Club, Newcastle. 'Monty', as he was known, was an alert, humane man whose grit, loyalty, co-operative spirit and quiet, commanding presence were an inspiration to all who came into contact with him. In 1945 he was awarded the Institution of Engineers' Warren Memorial Prize for engineering, and in 1946 the Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal for a 'notable contribution to the Science and Practice of Engineering'; in 1960 he was elected a fellow of the institution, and in 1966 was awarded an honorary doctorate of engineering by the University of Newcastle. He was also a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London.

Survived by his son, Corlette died in Sydney on 11 December 1969 and was cremated after a service in Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, Newcastle. The Corlette Fountain Court in the engineering school of the University of Newcastle was given in his memory in 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Corbett, The Institution of Engineers, Australia (Syd, 1973)
  • London Gazette, 28 Jan 1916, 1 June, 25, 28 Dec 1917, 31 Dec 1918, 29 Jan, 3 June, 11 July 1919
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Journal, 42 (1970)
  • Chartered Engineer (Sydney), 40 (1973)
  • Industrial Australia and Mining Standard, 3 Apr 1930
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 7 July 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Dec 1969, 18 Jan 1972.

Citation details

P. J. Greville, 'Corlette, James Montagu Christian (1880–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 13 April 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]


25 August, 1880
Ashfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


11 December, 1969 (aged 89)
Sydney, New South Wales, 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.