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Osmond Charles Fuhrman (1889–1961)

by W. J. Hudson

This article was published:

Osmond Charles William Fuhrman (1889-1961), public servant and diplomat, was born Otto Carl Wilhelm Fuhrmann on 29 July 1889 at Richmond, Melbourne, elder son of Heinrich August Fuhrmann, a carpenter from Hamburg, Germany, and his wife Agnes, née O'Connor, a Tasmanian. Nothing is known of his education. He was a storekeeper in the country town of Alexandra before obtaining a position as an assistant in the library of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Active in the Victorian militia between 1907 and 1910 and from 1913, Fuhrman enlisted as a second lieutenant in the 14th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, in August 1914, serving with distinction at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He was promoted captain in January 1916 and major in February. At Pozières he thwarted an attack on his sector by manning a machine-gun and killing some fifty Germans, for which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Accidentally injured in France late in 1917, he served with a training brigade in Britain in 1918-19, returning to Melbourne in December 1919. He had been appointed O.B.E. On 13 September 1917 at Acton, London, he had married Mildred Flora Mackay, a Queensland violinist. In 1918 he formally anglicized his name.

After demobilization Fuhrman returned to the Supreme Court Library where he deputized for the librarian and served as acting secretary to the Board of Examiners for Barristers and Solicitors. In 1921 he published The High Court Procedure Act, 1903-1915 and rules of the High Court of Australia …

In April 1921 Fuhrman succeeded P. E. Deane as private secretary to the prime minister W. M. Hughes. Hughes was not an easy master and seven months later Fuhrman was faced with the option of a low-paid clerkship in the public service when Sir Joseph Cook, about to leave for London as high commissioner, took him on as his private secretary.

Fuhrman served at Australia House in London from 1922 to 1938, until 1927 as private secretary to Cook and subsequently as a clerk attached to the external affairs branch of the Prime Minister's Department. Because Cook as a rule led Australian delegations to meetings of League of Nations bodies in Geneva, Fuhrman had opportunities to develop valuable expertise as a specialist on league matters, serving as secretary to most delegations to meetings of the assembly and of the International Labour Organization. Australia did not yet have a diplomatic corps, but in the 1920s and 1930s Fuhrman exercised useful diplomatic functions in dealings with other countries' delegations and especially with members of the league secretariat. His reputation had become so high that, by the late 1930s, he was virtually submitting in advance the kinds of questions he wanted put to Australian representatives by the Permanent Mandates Commission in its annual examinations of Australia's administration of New Guinea and Nauru. S. M. (Viscount) Bruce as high commissioner in 1934 described Fuhrman as 'a zealous and capable officer'.

He returned to Australia late in 1938 to take up a position in Canberra with the National Insurance Commission but soon transferred to the Commonwealth Investigation Branch and then to the Department of Supply and Development. From 1940 to 1945 he served with the Eastern Group Supply Council in India. After the war he joined the Department of External Affairs, serving as official secretary in Pretoria in 1946, consul-general in Shanghai in 1947-48 and chargé d'affaires in Nanking in 1948. He concluded his career as minister in Tel Aviv from 1949 until 1953, retiring to Devon in England in 1954.

Fuhrman died at Tiverton, Devon, on 10 November 1961, survived by his wife and a daughter in England, and by a son, Colonel L. H. R. Fuhrman of Canberra. He will be remembered principally as one of the half-dozen or so men who, in the half-light of the years of dominion status, helped take Australia from behind Imperial walls into the politics and diplomacy of the world community.

Select Bibliography

  • Punch (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1921
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 July 1922
  • CP 268/3, Prime Minister's Dept, non-current personal files, 1920-54 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

W. J. Hudson, 'Fuhrman, Osmond Charles (1889–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 16 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]

Alternative Names
  • Fuhrmann, Otto Carl Wilhelm

19 July, 1889
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


10 November, 1961 (aged 72)
Tiverton, Devon, England

Cultural Heritage

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