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Sir Winston Joseph Dugan (1876–1951)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published:

Sir Winston Dugan, Hammer &​ Co, c.1934

Sir Winston Dugan, Hammer &​ Co, c.1934

State Library of South Australia, 6495

Sir Winston Joseph Dugan (1876-1951), soldier and governor, was born on 3 September 1876 at Parsonstown, King's County, Ireland, son of Charles Winston Dugan, inspector of schools, and his wife Esther Elizabeth, née Rogers. Educated at Lurgan College, County Armagh, Dugan (pronounced Duggan) enlisted in the British Army in 1896 and was commissioned on 24 January 1900 in the Lincolnshire Regiment. In 1899-1902 he saw active service in South Africa. He was appointed captain in the Worcestershire Regiment in 1904 and was garrison adjutant, Irish Command, in 1910-14. At the register office, Kensington, London, on 2 December 1911 he married Ruby Lilian (Applewhaite-) Abbott.

In World War I Dugan served ably and gallantly on the Western Front. While commanding the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1915). Promoted temporary brigadier general in July 1916, he commanded the 184th Infantry Brigade until he was severely wounded in September. He led the 73rd Brigade from December 1916 to July 1918, was appointed C.M.G. (1918) and was mentioned in dispatches six times.

After commanding the 10th Brigade in 1919-23, Dugan was placed on half-pay in 1924. He returned to duty as assistant adjutant-general, Southern Command (1926-30), and commanded the 56th (1st London) Division, Territorial Army (1931-34). Appointed aide-de-camp to King George V in 1928 and C.B. in 1929, he was promoted major general on 13 April 1930. In 1933 he presided at the court martial of Lieutenant Norman Baillie-Stewart for offences against the Official Secrets Act and was commended for his efforts to ensure the accused a fair hearing. He drew further press notice that year when he allowed himself to be 'kidnapped' to shake his subordinates out of the rut of peacetime routines.

Early in 1934 Dugan was chosen to succeed Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven (later Lord Gowrie) as governor of South Australia. Appointed K.C.M.G., Dugan retired from the army and arrived in Adelaide with his wife on 28 July. The most handsome couple ever to occupy Government House, they were effective and witty public speakers, and good listeners; they dedicated themselves to the service of the people, travelling widely, identifying problems and bringing them to the attention of ministers. They gave financial as well as moral support to all manner of good causes and to needy individuals. Labor, Independent and government members of parliament wanted Dugan to remain for a second term, but he had agreed to succeed Lord Huntingfield as governor of Victoria.

The Dugans reached Melbourne on 17 July 1939. To the chagrin of the Dominions Office in London, Sir Winston still regarded meeting people as more important than writing reports. He provoked controversy by telling members of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures that they looked well fed and ought to be taking more initiatives to reduce unemployment. His wife denounced the conditions she found in some country hospitals. Meanwhile, she had converted the ballroom at Government House into a wartime workroom for the Australian Red Cross Society, of which she was national president. The Dugans 'contrived uncomplainingly' to conceal the shabby and dilapidated state of their residence by 'an ingenious deployment of their own possessions'.

Sir Winston played an active role in stabilizing Victorian politics in the 1940s. When the Dunstan Country Party government disintegrated in September 1943, he commissioned the Labor leader John Cain as premier; four days later Dunstan cemented a coalition with the United Australia Party. On the collapse of that ministry in September 1945, Dugan invited in turn Dunstan, T. T. Hollway and Cain to form a stopgap ministry until elections could be held, but none of them was able to guarantee supply. Dugan then sent for the Liberals' deputy-leader, Ian Macfarlan. As soon as a supply bill was passed, Dugan dissolved parliament. After a general election in November left the Independents holding the balance of power, he commissioned Cain to form a ministry.

At the request of governments of all hues, Dugan's term in Victoria was extended five times. He had been appointed a knight of the Order of St John (1935) and elevated to G.C.M.G. (1944); and he had served (6 September 1944 to 29 January 1945 and 19 January to 10 March 1947) as administrator of the Commonwealth. He was raised to the peerage in January 1949 and retired to England in February.

Tall, with an aquiline nose above a well-trimmed white moustache, always immaculately dressed, and a chain-smoker, Dugan had turned to golf in 1918 when his war injuries compelled him to give up hunting and polo. He occasionally rode a police horse in the Adelaide or Melbourne parklands until one reared and threw him in 1941. In later life he wore a monocle, but spurned comparisons with Colonel Blimp, saying that, when only one eye needed correction, a single lens was cheaper than spectacles. An Anglican in the Irish Protestant tradition, he read a chapter or two of the Bible every day and supported foreign missions. Lord Dugan died without issue on 17 August 1951 at Marylebone, London, and was buried in the Applewhaite family vault at Pickenham Hall, Swaffham, Norfolk. His widow died in 1985, leaving nearly all her estate, valued at £813 929, to charity.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Sayers, Ned Herring (Melb, 1980)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4, 7 June 1934, 30 Aug 1939
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 Feb 1939
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Mar 1939, 4 Aug 1947, 22, 24 May 1948, 20 Aug 1951
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 July 1939, 22 May 1948, 1 Feb 1949, 20 Aug 1951
  • Times (London), 20 Aug 1951
  • DO 35/582, 584, 592, 594, 1120 (AJCP, microfilm, National Library of Australia)
  • GRG 2/5/41-43, 11/20-22 (State Records of South Australia)
  • dispatches, 1937-39 (Government House, Adelaide)
  • VPRS 7582/P1/2, 8299/P1/10-11 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Dugan, Sir Winston Joseph (1876–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Sir Winston Dugan, Hammer &​ Co, c.1934

Sir Winston Dugan, Hammer &​ Co, c.1934

State Library of South Australia, 6495

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Baron Dugan
  • Dugan, Baron

3 September, 1876
Birr, Offaly, Ireland


17 August, 1951 (aged 74)
London, Middlesex, England

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