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Clifford Henderson Hay (1878–1949)

by Jack Watson

This article was published:

Clifford Henderson Hay (1878-1949), by unknown photographer

Clifford Henderson Hay (1878-1949), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 19936

Clifford Henderson Hay (1878-1949), public servant, was born on 22 April 1878 in Adelaide, son of Thomas Davidson Hay, English-born marine engineer and later secretary of the Australasian Institute of Marine Engineers, and his wife Mary Ann, née Green. The family moved to Sydney in 1884. After attending Croydon Park and Crown Street Public schools, Hay entered a mercantile office. He joined the public service in 1896 and by 1901 was a clerk in the taxation branch of the Colonial Treasurer's Department. At St Clement's Anglican Church, Mosman, on 12 February 1907 he married Lucille Florence May Westcott. Later that year he was appointed senior clerk in the newly formed Premier's Department; on 15 March 1916 he became secretary and permanent head.

Hay's department administered the affairs of Government House, both branches of the Legislature, the Agent-General's Office in London, foreign consuls and the State's representation abroad; it was the channel of communication with the Commonwealth and other State governments. In World War I Hay 'worked almost continuously day and night in the discharge of additional duties devolving upon him as a result of war conditions'. As general secretary to the Conference of Premiers of the Australian States, he had 'a tremendous amount of clerical labour' with 'responsibility for securing legislative and administrative effect' to the conference's decisions. Hay ran his department with 'conspicuous ability and great tact'.

From April until October 1917 he proved an efficient aide to the premier, William Holman, on an official mission to Britain, Europe and North America. He also accompanied Premiers John Storey to England, America and Japan in 1921 and Sir George Fuller overseas in 1923.

A conspicuous public figure, Hay was identified with the organization of state occasions, notably the visits to Sydney of the French mission (1918); Admiral the Earl Jellicoe (1919) and General Sir William Birdwood (1920); the victory celebrations (1919); the tour of the Prince of Wales (1920), for whom he arranged a special aerial mail service from South Australia to Sydney; and the visits of the Royal Navy in 1924 and the American fleet in 1925. Hay was appointed M.V.O. (1920), C.M.G. (1921) and, after the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927, C.B.E. (1928). In recognition of his increased status and responsibilities, he was appointed under-secretary on 1 July 1924.

In the 1930s Hay was State organizer for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932 and, with characteristic efficiency, was able to provide a replacement ribbon after the unscheduled activities of Captain Francis de Groot. He managed the visit of the Duke of Gloucester (1934), and was executive member of Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations Council. In May 1938 Hay was appointed agent-general for New South Wales in London, but suffered a stroke late next year and was recalled. In 1940-43 he was president of the State Superannuation Board.

Very tall and straight-backed, Hay was a fine-looking man, always impeccably dressed. Good-humoured, with unfailing courtesy, he was at home in any company. An able and tireless worker, attentive to detail, he engaged in a wide range of outside interests: cycling, tennis, bowls, Freemasonry, fishing and gardening. He was a fellow of the Queensland branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia and the New South Wales branch of the Royal Empire Society, and for some years was chairman of the board of trustees of St Margaret's Hospital.

Hay died from cerebral thrombosis at his home at Cremorne on 16 December 1949 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and three sons survived him. Although frequently mentioned for appointment to other positions, Hay had remained chief official associate of seven premiers, Holman, Storey, James Dooley, Fuller, Jack Lang, (Sir) Thomas Bavin and (Sir) Bertram Stevens. Many of the measures and statements for which they were applauded originated with Hay.

Select Bibliography

  • Smith's Weekly, 29 Dec 1921, 11 July 1925
  • Sunday Times, 16 Apr 1925, 17 July 1927
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Dec 1924, 18 Dec 1949
  • CO 448/23, p 175 (National Archives of the United Kingdom)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jack Watson, 'Hay, Clifford Henderson (1878–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Clifford Henderson Hay (1878-1949), by unknown photographer

Clifford Henderson Hay (1878-1949), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 19936

Life Summary [details]


22 April, 1878
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


16 December, 1949 (aged 71)
Cremorne, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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