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Sir Ernest Frederick Gaunt (1865–1940)

by Sally O'Neill

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Ernest Gaunt, n.d.

Ernest Gaunt, n.d.

photo from National Portrait Gallery (UK)

Cecil Robert Gaunt (1863-1938), army officer, Sir Ernest Frederick Augustus Gaunt (1865-1940) and Sir Guy Reginald Archer Gaunt (1869-1953), admirals, were born in Victoria, sons of William Henry Gaunt and his wife Elizabeth Mary, née Palmer. Mary Eliza was their sister.

Cecil was born on 1 October 1863 at Woodlands, Chiltern, where his father was then police magistrate. After education at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1876-81, he entered the Union Bank of Australia. In 1887 he went to England and enlisted in the 13th Hussars; in June 1891 he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the 4th Dragoon Guards. He served on the Indian North-West Frontier and was twice mentioned in dispatches. A fine horseman, he became well known as a polo player. He fought in the South African War and was mentioned in dispatches at Ladysmith. From March 1901 to November 1902 he was seconded to the South African Constabulary.

In May 1904 at Bombay, India, Captain Gaunt married Helen Maud Beatrice, daughter of Major General C. J. Moorsom of Rawalpindi. Retiring to Bangalore in 1913, he devoted himself to racing. After the outbreak of World War I he returned to service and in June 1915 arrived at Mesopotamia as major in the 4th Dragoon Guards. He was commandant of the base depot at Basra in 1916-17, was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel (reserve of officers) in March 1916, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the relief of Kut-el-Amara in February 1917. In 1919 he commanded the Rawalpindi area and for service on the North-West Frontier was mentioned in dispatches and appointed O.B.E. In April next year he was demobilized. He retired to St Mary Bourne, near Andover in Hampshire, England. Predeceased by his wife, he died in hospital at Andover on 4 May 1938; he had no children.

Ernest Gaunt was born on 25 March 1865 at Beechworth. After a year (1876) at Melbourne Grammar he went to England to join H.M.S. Britannia as a naval cadet. He served on the Australia Station from 1880 to 1884; as sub-lieutenant in H.M.S. Nelson, he hoisted the British flag when the British Protectorate over New Guinea was proclaimed. In 1896 he was promoted first lieutenant of the armoured cruiser Narcissus, and in China in 1898-99 served in administrative posts; he was thanked by the Austrian and German commanders-in-chief for his services during the Boxer Rebellion. In early December 1903 he was severely wounded when he commanded a landing party to avenge the death of an Italian naval officer in Somaliland; on 31 December he was promoted captain and subsequently commanded the battleships Majestic, Queen and Superb. From October 1914 he held the rank of rear admiral and commanded the 1st Battle Squadron of the Fleet in the Battle of Jutland. He was promoted vice admiral in February 1919 and admiral in June 1924 before retiring in March next year. He was appointed K.C.B. in 1919 and K.B.E. in 1922. In 1899 he had married Louise Geraldine Martyn (d.1934) of County Clare, Ireland. He retired to Monte Carlo and later London, where he died on 20 April 1940 at Westminster Hospital, survived by a son and two daughters.

Guy Gaunt was born on 25 May 1869 at Ballarat West. A boarder at Melbourne Grammar in 1881-83, he was intended for the law but pleaded to go to sea. His father could only afford to send him to H.M.S. Worcester, the training ship for officers of the merchant navy; he soon transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve and was rated a midshipman on 17 December 1886. In October 1895 he joined the Royal Navy under the provisions of a special Order-in-Council.

In February 1896 Guy Gaunt became navigating lieutenant of the gun vessel Swift, then on the China Station, and took part in operations in the Philippines in 1897. Serving in H.M.S. Porpoise in 1897, he commanded the British Consulate at Apia, Samoa, during a rebel attack, and in subsequent uprisings raised and commanded a native force, dubbed 'Gaunt's Brigade', and was mentioned in dispatches. In June 1901 he was promoted commander. He served in the battleship Vengeance in China during the Russo-Japanese war and later in Cressy and Glory. In 1904 at Hongkong he married a widow, Mrs Margaret Elizabeth Worthington, daughter of Sir Thomas Wardle.

Promoted captain in 1907, Guy Gaunt commanded the cruiser Andromeda and subsequently the cruisers Niobe and Challenger (on the Australia Station) and the battleships Majestic and Thunderer. In June 1914 he was appointed naval attaché in Washington; his success in counteracting the effects of German propaganda in North America brought him prominence. He was appointed liaison officer with the United States of America on its entry into the war. In 1918 he was employed in convoy service across the Atlantic and in June was appointed to the naval intelligence staff at the Admiralty. He was promoted on the retired list to rear admiral in October 1918, vice admiral in July 1924 and admiral in February 1928. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1916 and C.B., K.C.M.G., in 1918, and was elected a younger brother of Trinity House.

In 1922 Sir Guy was elected to the House of Commons as Conservative member for the Buckrose Division of Yorkshire but resigned in February 1926. In July he was cited as co-respondent in the divorce case between Sir Richard Cruise and his wife. Sir Guy's wife divorced him in December 1927. He retired to Tangier, and on 1 December 1932 married a 35-year-old widow, Sybil Victoria Joseph, née Grant White; they had two daughters. His autobiography, The yield of the years, was published in 1940. Sir Guy visited Australia in 1925, 1931-32 and in 1951. He lived at Cobham, Surrey, England, before his death in hospital at nearby Woking on 18 May 1953; he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. Lyne, New Guinea (Lond, 1885)
  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Melburnian, 29 Aug 1938, 14 May 1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 July 1926, 22 Dec 1927, 22 Apr 1940
  • 'Obituary: Adml. Sir Guy Gaunt', Times (London), 20 May 1953, p 10.

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Gaunt, Sir Ernest Frederick (1865–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 July 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

Ernest Gaunt, n.d.

Ernest Gaunt, n.d.

photo from National Portrait Gallery (UK)

Life Summary [details]


25 March, 1865
Beechworth, Victoria, Australia


20 April, 1940 (aged 75)
London, Middlesex, England

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.