Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cecil Harry Huddlestone Hay Hadgraft (1904–1987)

by Chris Tiffin

This article was published:

Cecil Harry Huddlestone Hay Hadgraft (1904-1987), university lecturer and literary critic, was born on 8 June 1904 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, eldest of three children of English-born Henry Benjamin Hadgraft, storeman, and his wife Fanny Huddlestone, née Slater, from Rockhampton, Queensland. Brought up at Rockhampton, Cecil attended the local grammar school and at 16 won an open scholarship to the University of Queensland. Advised by his headmaster and mentor Henry Kellow, he repeated his senior year before entering the science faculty in 1922. He was associate-editor (1922-23) and editor (1924) of the university magazine, Galmahra. After failing his final year he taught (1925-30) at Rockhampton Grammar School and studied English and philosophy as an external student at his university (BA, 1929). Back in Brisbane in 1931, he gained first-class honours in English with a thesis on aspects of the mock-heroic in English verse and drama to 1781.

In 1932-33 Hadgraft was an English teacher and housemaster at Wolaroi College, Orange, New South Wales. On 9 September 1933 at St Hilda’s Church of England, Katoomba, he married Jessie Hartley, a teacher. Returning to Queensland, he became English master at Ipswich Grammar School in 1934. He continued his studies at the university (MA, 1937; Dip.Ed., 1942) and wrote a series of high school textbooks, including Exercises in Sub-Junior English (1942) and An Approach to English Literature (1945). Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force in September 1942, he served as an education officer at bases in Australia before being demobolised as a temporary flight lieutenant in 1946. That year the University of Melbourne awarded him a B.Ed. for a thesis based on his adult education work in the RAAF.

Hadgraft resumed teaching at Ipswich Grammar. By 1947 he was also publishing critical articles on Australian literature and reviewing books for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In 1948 he lectured in the evenings in the department of English at the University of Queensland. Next year he travelled to England and started a Ph.D. in medieval phonology at the Victoria University of Manchester, but abandoned it after a year to return to Queensland as assistant-lecturer in English at the university. In 1951 he delivered the Commonwealth Literary Fund lectures in Queensland and next year was chief examiner for the State’s public examinations in English. He was promoted to lecturer in 1955 and senior lecturer in 1958. In 1956-57 he travelled on a John Hay Whitney fellowship to the United States of America, where he gained expertise in American literature and literary theory at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

Committed to the study of Australian literature, in the 1950s Hadgraft spent most university vacations in Sydney, reading in the Mitchell Library and preparing his books Queensland and Its Writers (1959) and Australian Literature: A Critical Account to 1955 (1960). Douglas Stewart invited him to select Australian short stories for Angus & Robertson’s Ltd’s anthology Coast to Coast (1961). In 1962, the year he became reader, he introduced courses in Australian literature. He edited a series of nineteenth-century Australian texts: Henry Savery’s Quintus Servinton (1962) and The Hermit in Van Diemen’s Land (1964), Frederick Sinnett’s The Fiction Fields of Australia (1966) and, with Raymond Beilby, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1969) by Tasma (Jessie Couvreur). In 1967 he won the Xavier Society’s literary award for his biography, James Brunton Stephens, published in 1969.

Hadgraft’s criticism, which showed the influence of his early reading in eighteenth-century literature, was pre-eminently cautious and judicial. He described, weighed and balanced. Occasionally waspish—he once described a brother critic’s work as `flitting from hyperbole to cliché’—he enjoyed the cut and thrust of academic debate and playing devil’s advocate. His favourite teaching format was a dialogue lecture with Val Vallis, in which he would challenge the latter’s enthusiastic Romanticism with sceptical materialism.

A keen bibliophile, Hadgraft was on familiar terms with antiquarian booksellers in Brisbane and Sydney. For many years he devoted his Saturday mornings to scouting the second-hand bookshops in Brisbane. A strong supporter of his university’s Fryer Memorial Library, in 1967 he helped it to secure Edward Leo Hayes’s wide-ranging collection. He formally retired in 1974 but continued to teach and research as an honorary reader. James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, acquired his personal library, and he then accumulated another small but valuable collection of books. In 1986 he published an anthology, The Australian Short Story Before Lawson. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 19 February 1987 in Brisbane and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Allsopp, A Centenary History of the Ipswich Grammar School 1863-1963 (1963)
  • L. Cantrell (ed), Bards, Bohemians, and Bookmen (1976)
  • T. A. Clinch, The History of the Rockhampton Grammar School, Centenary 1881-1980 (1982)
  • Friends of the Fryer Library Newsletter, May 1987, p 4
  • Hadgraft papers (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Tiffin, 'Hadgraft, Cecil Harry Huddlestone Hay (1904–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 June, 1904
Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


19 February, 1987 (aged 82)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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