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Geoffrey Forrest Hughes (1895–1951)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published:

Geoffrey Forrest Hughes (1895-1951), solicitor and aviator, was born on 12 July 1895 at Darling Point, Sydney, second surviving son of Sydney-born parents Sir Thomas Hughes, solicitor, and his wife Louisa, née Gilhooley. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, and in 1914 began arts at the University of Sydney; in June he was commissioned in the 26th Infantry Regiment. A youthful interest in aeronautics led him to try unsuccessfully to join the Australian Flying Corps. In 1915 he was honorary aide-de-camp to the governor Sir Gerald Strickland.

In March 1916 Hughes went to England and was commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps on 3 June and promoted flying officer on 28 July. He flew two tours of duty in France with No.10 Squadron in 1916 and No.62 in 1918, serving with training squadrons in England in 1917. Like his father and mother, he criticized widespread opposition in the Australian Catholic community to conscription. Writing to his parents in 1917 he claimed that priests who opposed the war were doing 'more harm to the cause of Catholicity in Australia, than the bitterest orangeman could ever do'. Promoted captain on 1 April 1918, he was twice mentioned in dispatches for showing 'great coolness and courage in action' and was awarded the Military Cross in May. After the final German offensive in France, he returned to a flying training unit and, on graduating, trained recruits for the Royal Air Force in 1918-19 and was awarded the Air Force Cross in June 1919.

Back in Australia Hughes returned to the University of Sydney (B.A., 1920; LL.B., 1923). He was admitted a solicitor on 10 May 1923 and joined the family firm, Hughes & Hughes. At Darlinghurst on 8 January that year he had married Margaret Eyre Sealy, née Vidal; they lived at Rose Bay. His first love remained flying: he was president of the (Royal) Aero Club of New South Wales in 1925-34 and persuaded the Commonwealth government to assist the aero club movement throughout Australia so that a steady stream of trained pilots would be available for civil and military purposes. In July 1940 he was granted a citizen commission in the Royal Australian Air Force as flying officer and, as a temporary wing commander, was appointed commanding officer of the flying school at Narrandera in 1941; he relinquished his commission, as acting group captain, in April 1943.

Hughes became a director of several public companies with which his father was linked, including the Australia Hotel Co. Ltd, the United Insurance Co. and the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney, and was chairman of Tooheys Ltd and Tooheys Standard Securities Ltd. He bitterly opposed the Chifley government's bank nationalization proposals in the late 1940s and refused a seat on the board of Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. He was a council-member of Sancta Sophia College, University of Sydney, a member of the Australian Club and Royal Sydney Golf Club, and a keen trout-fisherman.

Hughes died of pneumonia in Lewisham Hospital on 13 September 1951 and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £29,492. He was survived by his wife, daughter and three sons: Thomas, a leading barrister, was Commonwealth attorney-general in 1969-71, and Robert has developed an international reputation as a provocative art critic. A portrait of Geoffrey Hughes by Florence Rodway is owned by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • C. Cole, Royal Air Force 1918 (Lond, 1968)
  • Sea, Land, and Air, Nov 1919
  • Australian Quarterly, Dec 1951
  • Lady Hughes, newsclipping book and Hughes family papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Hughes, Geoffrey Forrest (1895–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 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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