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Emily Dutton (1884–1962)

by Decie Denholm

This article was published:

Emily Dutton (1884-1962), musician, artist and Red Cross worker, was born on 13 November 1884 at Gawler, South Australia, one of four children of John Felix Martin, manufacturer, and his wife Christina, née McNeil. Emily was privately educated. On 29 November 1905 in the garden at Martindale, her parents' Gawler home, she married Henry Hampden Dutton, of Anlaby, Kapunda, grandson of W. H. Dutton. The couple honeymooned in Britain and Europe, and were to have four children. When Henry and Emily revisited London in 1910, George Lambert painted her portrait. Tall and strikingly beautiful, she rarely ventured outdoors without a hat and preserved her delicate complexion. She was an accomplished pianist and violinist who gave public concerts for various charities and became a foundation member (1920) of the South Australian Orchestra; she was also a talented artist and an exhibiting member of the (Royal) South Australian Society of Arts.

At Anlaby, Emily was hostess to many musicians, actors, artists and public figures; the entertaining was always formal. A library was built to house the Duttons' collection of Australiana. She reorganized the grounds in a romantic style, planting native trees, shrubs and flowers. The Duttons owned three other homes—in Adelaide, at Victor Harbor and on Kangaroo Island. Like her husband, Mrs Dutton enjoyed motoring, and in 1921 drove a Dodge nearly 2100 miles (3380 km) from Adelaide to Darwin. In 1927 she helped to establish a division of the Girl Guides' Association in the mid-north of the State. Next year Emily and Henry embarked on a tour of Britain and Europe. While staying at Claridge's in London, she seldom retired before 3.30 a.m. and spent £230 on clothes at Maison Alexander. She was again abroad when her husband died at home in 1932. For several years his widow triumphed in London. King George II of Greece was an admirer; each year she received gifts and telegrams from Athens on her birthday and at Christmas. She became, in part, the model for Mrs Polkinghorn in Patrick White's story, 'The Letters'.

In 1938-55 she belonged to the South Australian divisional council of the Australian Red Cross Society. An emergency services committee was formed in 1939 to organize women during World War II. For the next six years Mrs Dutton served as a country supervisor of the Voluntary Services Detachment, an assistant controller (country districts) of the Voluntary Aid Detachments and a district officer of the St John Ambulance Brigade. In October 1940 she organized a weekend camp for 114 officers at Anlaby to co-ordinate training for country V.A.D.s and V.S.D.s, the Red Cross transport service and transport auxiliaries. Lectures took place in the library. A mock battle was held to provide training in first aid, with an ambulance, stretchers, casualty clearing stations and a base hospital. In 1946 Mrs Dutton was awarded the Red Cross Society's commandant-in-chief's card.

Survived by her daughter and two of her three sons, she died at Anlaby on 11 May 1962 and was buried in the graveyard of St Matthew's Church, Hamilton, the church where she had been organist. Her son Geoffrey became a noted writer.

Select Bibliography

  • National Council of Women of South Australia Inc, Greater Than Their Knowing (Adel, 1986)
  • D. Marr, Patrick White (Syd, 1991)
  • Red Cross Society (South Australia), Annual Report, 1938-55, and newspaper cuttings
  • National Library of Australia, Voices, Summer, 1993-94
  • Adelaide Chronicle, 23 Aug 1924
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 12 May 1962
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Decie Denholm, 'Dutton, Emily (1884–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 February 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

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