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Frederic Godfrey Hughes (1858–1944)

by Judith Smart

This article was published:

Frederic Godfrey Hughes is a minor entry in this article

Agnes Eva Hughes (1856?-1940), political organizer, was born probably in 1856 at South Yarra, Melbourne, daughter of Peter Snodgrass and his wife Charlotte Agnes, née Cotton. She was educated at Miss Murphy's school, South Yarra. Her elder sister Janet married Sir William Clarke and a brother, Evelyn, became a canon in the Church of England.

On 1 October 1885 at All Saints Church, St Kilda, Eva married Frederic Godfrey Hughes (1858-1944), son of Charles William Hughes, grazier, and his wife Ellen, née Man. The Hughes and Snodgrass families had been neighbours in the Seymour district. Frederic was born on 26 January 1858 at Windsor, Melbourne. His brothers were (Canon) Ernest Selwyn Hughes and Dr Wilfred Kent Hughes. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, he began as a clerk with a prominent Melbourne land valuer and agent, setting up on his own about 1884. He was a noted athlete, footballer and rower. A St Kilda councillor for twenty-three years, he was mayor in 1901-02 and 1911-12. He was best known as a citizen soldier, joining the field artillery in 1875 as a gunner. In 1889 he went to the Victorian Horse Artillery in the rank of captain, commanding the Rupertswood Battery until 1897, and was promoted major in 1891 and lieutenant-colonel in 1900. In 1903 he became commander of the 11th Australian Light Horse Regiment (Victorian Mounted Rifles) and in 1909 aide-de-camp to the governor-general.

On the outbreak of World War I Hughes commanded the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, Australian Imperial Force, and as temporary brigadier general served on Gallipoli. His men took part in the disastrous storming of the Turkish trenches at The Nek on 7 August 1915. Hughes was evacuated to Australia in March 1916 suffering from pneumonia and typhoid fever, and his A.I.F. appointment was terminated; he had been far too old for active service. He was reappointed in July 1918 as brigadier general, retiring as major general in March 1920. After the war he concentrated on business, mining and pastoral interests, his directorships including Dunlop Rubber Pty Ltd and South Broken Hill Pty Ltd. In old age a gentle man who enjoyed gardening and picnics, he died at St Kilda on 23 August 1944, survived by two sons and two daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at £22,314.

Eva bore four children between 1886 and 1891 and devoted her time to their rearing but as they grew older she took to public life. In February-April 1904 she was one of six women who, in the conservative cause, established the Australian Women's National League. She chaired the first general meeting on 14 April, when Janet Lady Clarke became president, and afterwards organized the St Kilda branch. In September 1909 she became State president and for the next thirteen years was identified with the league. Fellow officers acknowledged her enthusiasm and administrative ability; by 1914 she had built the A.W.N.L. from 120 branches to 420 with over 50,000 members, reputedly 'the largest body of organised women in Australia'. She kept the league firmly independent of other electoral organizations, particularly the city-based Deakinite Liberals led by Herbert and Ivy Brookes.

After August 1914 Mrs Hughes encouraged league members in war-work. She herself joined the Australian League of Honour, the Lady Mayoress's Patriotic Fund and the Friendly Union of Soldiers' Wives and Mothers. The league branches raised over £21,000 for the War Loan Bond; they supplied tons of food, tobacco and rugs for the Young Men's Christian Association's 'Kitchener Memorial Huts', bought motor ambulances and even purchased a piano for the nurses. On 4 December 1916 Mrs Hughes formally presented to the minister for defence, (Sir) George Pearce, a ward of thirty-six beds in Caulfield Military Hospital.

In State politics Eva Hughes inveighed against the liberalism of Peacock's administration, especially the intention to make 'dangerous alterations' to the country-city electoral ratio and to broaden the voting qualifications for the Legislative Council. At the Federal elections in September 1914 she worked strenuously for a Liberal victory. She keenly supported the government's recruitment campaign and used her influence as an A.W.N.L. delegate to exclude dissident representatives from the National Council of Women. In May 1916 the league gathered 22,000 signatures in support of conscription: Mrs Hughes was a strident advocate. She was appointed O.B.E. in 1918. She had always refused to approve parliamentary candidature of women, and in accepting presidential nomination for the league in September 1921 she suggested that women elect their own council to consider bills concerning the home, women and children.

Eva Hughes refused to extend her presidency of the A.W.N.L. after 1922. For her 'gracious but firm rule' and her 'unswerving integrity of principle', she was made life patroness and a life member of council; she also continued to act as the league's adviser. In her later years she worked for various welfare associations and was a vice-president of the Girls' Friendly Society. She died at her St Kilda home on 10 June 1940 and was buried in St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • J. Rickard, Class and Politics (Canb, 1976)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 June 1940
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 June 1940, 24 Aug 1944
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Aug 1944
  • AWNL papers (MS 8313, State Library of Victoria)
  • Brookes papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Judith Smart, 'Hughes, Frederic Godfrey (1858–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 26 June 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

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