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Sir Edward Thomas Henry Hutton (1848–1923)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published:

Edward Thomas Henry Hutton (1848-1923), by unknown photographer, c1900

Edward Thomas Henry Hutton (1848-1923), by unknown photographer, c1900

Australian War Memorial, P03875.002

Sir Edward Thomas Henry Hutton (1848-1923), British regular soldier and first organizer of the Australian Army, was born on 6 December 1848 at Torquay, Devon, England, only son of Edward Thomas Hutton, banker, and his wife Jacintha Charlotte, née Eyre. Hutton was educated at Eton after which he joined the 60th Rifles as an ensign in 1867. He was promoted captain in 1879 and major in 1883. In 1879-85 he saw much active service in Africa, in the Zulu War (1879), the first South African War (1881), the occupation of Egypt including the battle of Tel-el-Kebir (1882) and the Nile Expedition (1884-85). During this period he became deeply interested in the training and employment of mounted infantry with which he thrice served on operations. At Aldershot, England, he raised and commanded mounted infantry units in 1888-92, becoming recognized as one of the leading proponents of this form of mobility. A good speaker with a flair for publicity, he was identified as one of the 'Wolseley Ring' of army reformers. He also founded the military society at Aldershot as a professional forum.

In 1889 Hutton was promoted lieutenant-colonel and on 1 June, at St Paul's Anglican Church, Knightsbridge, London, he married Eleanor Mary, daughter of Lord Charles Paulet and granddaughter of the marquis of Winchester. His marriage and his appointment as aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria in 1892 afforded him a degree of influence unusual for an officer of his rank. Promoted colonel in 1892, 'Curly' Hutton became commandant of the New South Wales Military Forces with the local rank of major general in 1893. The advent of an able leader committed to military reform and with recent war experience revived the flagging spirit of the New South Wales forces. Hutton inspected units in every part of the colony, addressed public gatherings and brought the army before the community, beginning with a major review in Sydney in July 1893. On one of his inspections he travelled 680 miles (1094 km) in twenty days including 500 miles (805 km) on horseback. He visited training camps and exercises, delivered lectures to officers, fostered rifle clubs and supported the movement for raising national regiments such as the Irish Rifles.

Valuable as the public side of his work was, Hutton's reorganization of the New South Wales forces was even more important because it gave the colony an army capable of taking the field as part of a Federal force. He restructured the headquarters staff, persuaded the government to transfer the influential department of the military secretary from the chief secretary to his own command and organized administrative services to support the fighting arms. All this was achieved in a period of acute economic depression and in the face of political and military opposition. At the outset of his command he quarrelled bitterly with the premier, Sir George Dibbs, who had insisted on a reduction of £30,000 in the defence estimates, the practical result of which was the cancellation of the Easter training camps. When Hutton's views on this were reported in the press the premier publicly censured his commandant saying, inter alia, 'he is a good soldier but he writes and talks too much. He means well … but he has much to learn in regard to his official duties'. There was substance in this criticism. Hutton from the start aroused suspicion in some quarters by his outspoken remarks on helping 'England in her hour of need'. He also vigorously supported the movement for Federal defence; in a speech at Bathurst in January 1894 he advocated one defence policy for the six colonies, a common organization of their forces while preserving their identity, a Federal regiment of artillery and a Federal council of defence.

At the intercolonial military conference of October 1894 Hutton recommended the establishment of a council of defence, composed of delegates from all the colonies, to take charge of the forces in time of war or general emergency. This was supported by the conference but its recommendations made little impression on the colonial premiers. However, the startling successes of the Japanese forces in the war with China in 1894-95 provided Hutton with a useful argument for greater preparedness which he placed before his government in March 1895. A second meeting of the commandants, chaired by him, in January 1896 reaffirmed their proposals for the employment of the forces of every colony in the joint defence of Australia under the control of a council of defence, while rejecting a suggestion from London that their field forces should be liable to serve beyond Australia. By this time the political movement for Federation was overtaking the military movement and political leaders were looking for Federation as the necessary preliminary to national defence.

Hutton returned to England in March 1896. By the end of his command he and his wife had won the esteem of the New South Wales forces and Hutton had become an important public figure. A convinced Imperialist, he quickly began to propagate his ideas on Australian defence, addressing members of parliament on the topic and the Aldershot Military Society on 'Our comrades of Greater Britain'. In that address the concept of the Australian soon to be popularized by C. E. Bean was already discernible: 'The Australian is a born horseman. With his long, lean muscular thighs he is more at home on a horse than on his feet, and is never seen to a greater advantage than when mounted and riding across bush or a difficult country … Fine horsemen, hardy, self-reliant, and excellent marksmen, they are the beau ideal of Mounted Riflemen … Accustomed to shift for themselves in the Australian bush, and under the most trying conditions of heat and cold, they would thrive where soldiers unaccustomed to bush life would die'. This address was widely reported in Australia as well as in Britain. In April 1898 he read a paper on 'A co-operative system for the defence of the Empire' before the Royal Colonial Institute in London, using the Australian Federal defence scheme as the pattern for a scheme of Empire defence.

After a staff appointment in Ireland Hutton went to Canada in 1898 to command the Canadian Militia, a force which presented him with opportunities of reform as far-reaching as those in New South Wales. His aim was to build a national army for Canada which would also be available to serve abroad. Unwisely, he became involved in Canadian politics; his efforts to pursue a military policy of his own became known to the Canadian government and his public speeches at the time of the South African War in 1899, with other devious activities, led to a crisis in which he was forced to resign. He returned to his true sphere, serving in South Africa where, as a major general, he commanded a strong brigade of mounted infantry with great distinction in the advance to Pretoria. His brigade included Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and British units and he chose his staff largely from the colonial forces. His letters reveal his enthusiasm for the colonial citizen soldier and his awareness of a special responsibility in such a command which seemed to him as much political and Imperial as military. For his services in South Africa he was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1900.

In 1901 the first Australian government appointed Hutton to command and organize its land forces. He was recommended by Field Marshal Lord Roberts after several other officers had refused or were rejected by the government. He returned to Australia in January 1902 to tackle the congenial task of transforming the six colonial forces into a national army. He was warned by his friends about speech-making, his intemperate language and the need for tact when dealing with ministers, but such warnings were quickly forgotten. That year in Melbourne he published some of his addresses, The Defence and Defensive Power of Australia.

Hutton came with high hopes and with the intention of organizing an army capable of supporting Australian and British interests beyond the Australian Commonwealth. His command began with personal frustrations owing to the refusal of the War Office to promote him lieutenant-general despite his much wider responsibilities and the refusal of the Australians to allow him to bring his own aide-de-camp. The government was without a defence policy, having withdrawn its first defence bill after it had been roughly handled in parliament. Confident and ambitious, Hutton submitted a minute in April 1902 outlining the strategic situation of Australia and the military organization he considered appropriate to it. He proposed a garrison force to defend the major coastal centres and ports and a field force which could be sent wherever Australian interests might require it. His proposals aroused adverse criticism not only in Australia but also in the Colonial Defence Committee in London. A new draft defence bill, prepared by Hutton at the request of the prime minister, was passed and finally proclaimed in March 1904 but it made no provision for sending Australian troops overseas. Nevertheless the general shape of the Australian Army as proposed by Hutton was preserved.

Meanwhile Hutton was merging the colonial militia forces into an Australian citizen army, although not without difficulty. He was furiously attacked in parliament and the press over the disbandment of small volunteer units whose disappearance was necessary to the development of a properly organized force. There was an alarming shortage of trained officers but the posting of a regular officer to a command in place of an elderly and inefficient militia colonel aroused a storm of protest. Similarly the transfer of instructors from one State to another caused a crisis between South Australia and the Commonwealth in 1902. Hutton fought a losing battle in trying to maintain a headquarters staff adequate for its task but reduction of the numbers of permanent officers and soldiers was a ready and popular way of saving money, especially as there were no pensions for those retrenched.

Hutton promoted efficiency, discipline and training in every department of the new citizen army. Much that he proposed had to wait for better times and the better atmosphere which the general officer commanding was incapable of creating. Among his proposals were a military college, an Army Service Corps, an Ordnance Corps, and superannuation for the permanent force. He was successful in creating the field force and the garrison force, with complete war and peace establishments. The cavalry and other mounted units he transformed into mounted infantry known as light horse. On the other hand he could not obtain funds for the equipment and rearmament of the forces. He instituted staff rides for the tactical training of officers and non-commissioned officers and began the process of producing an educated officer corps. These changes involved a degree of control and centralization which inevitably aroused resentment in the States. That some officers were also members of parliament or influential politically hindered his plans.

Hutton quarrelled frequently with his ministers, some of whose interventions were petty or foolish in the extreme. A more tolerant man would have made allowances for their inexperience and ignorance and for the very novelty of the experiment in which all were engaged. But Hutton the autocrat and fighter was in a hurry. He had insisted on a three-year appointment rather than the five he had been offered and there was still much to be done. Fortunately he had an eye for talent; chief among his protégés were Lieutenant-Colonel (Major General Sir) W. T. Bridges, Lieutenant-Colonel (General Sir) Harry Chauvel and Captain (General Sir) Brudenell White, all of whom were to play important roles in the development of the army, especially in World War I. His constant battles with his ministers were Hutton's undoing. In 1904 a succession of ministers worked at revising the Defence Act along the lines of the recent reorganization of the War Office where the commander-in-chief had been replaced by an army council. No government wanted another G.O.C., whether British or Australian. Hutton strongly opposed this policy but the bill providing a military board in place of the G.O.C. was passed by the end of the year. By that time he had resigned after another furious quarrel over payment for a cable in cipher, the contents of which he refused to divulge.

The handicaps under which Hutton worked cannot be disregarded. He began his task in years of recession when weak governments were struggling to reduce expenditure. In three years he had to deal with four prime ministers and six ministers of defence. Parliament and the army itself included men of parochial outlook in military affairs and there was widespread popular suspicion of regular officers who were associated with 'militarism' and 'gold lace'. For all his soldierly qualities, professionalism, experience and zeal, Hutton was devoid of the tact which might have eased his relations with the ministers whom, too often, he despised. Perhaps his chief difficulty arose from his desire to serve two masters, the War Office and the Australian government. He saw the Australian Military Forces and the armies of other dominions as branches of one great British Army. He intended to give Australia an efficient citizen force for its own defence but he also wanted it to be ready to defend any part of the Empire. Despite the strength of the Imperial ties, Australian national sentiment and a growing appreciation of the country's proper interests were too strong for Hutton. However much he was disliked and distrusted by politicians, he was held in affection and admiration within the army and he left his mark on those who were to lead the Australian Imperial Force.

On his return to the United Kingdom he was given charge of administration in the Eastern Command and made G.O.C. of the 3rd British Division. At last in November 1907 he was promoted lieutenant-general on the eve of retirement. He was appointed K.C.B. in 1912. When Bridges was raising the Australian Imperial Force he suggested that it be commanded by Hutton. The government rejected the suggestion but Hutton was recalled by the War Office to organize and command the 21st British Division. A riding accident in 1915 brought about his final retirement.

During World War I Hutton corresponded with Bridges, Chauvel, White and others, rejoicing in Australian successes. After the victory of Romani in August 1916 he congratulated Chauvel, commanding the Anzac Mounted Division. 'You and your men are establishing Australia as a Nation great by land and sea — which shall stand for British Freedom, Justice and Honour in the Southern Seas for all time.' Senior officers of the A.I.F. would visit the old soldier whose health was declining. He died on 4 August 1923 and was buried with full military honours at Lyne near his home at Chertsey, Surrey. He was survived by his wife; they had no children. Portraits by Tom Roberts are in the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and Victoria Barracks, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Meaney, A History of Australian Defence and Foreign Policy, 1901-23, vol 1 (Syd, 1976)
  • R. A. Preston, Canada and ‘Imperial Defense’ (Durham, NC, 1967)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1901-02, 2 (A36), 1903, 2 (37), 1904, 2 (25)
  • Australian Quarterly, Dec 1956
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 29 (1959), no 1
  • Bulletin, 15 July 1893
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Aug 1923
  • E. T. H. Hutton papers (National Library of Australia and British Library).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Hutton, Sir Edward Thomas Henry (1848–1923)', 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Thomas Henry Hutton (1848-1923), by unknown photographer, c1900

Edward Thomas Henry Hutton (1848-1923), by unknown photographer, c1900

Australian War Memorial, P03875.002

Life Summary [details]


6 December, 1848
Torquay, Devon, England


4 August, 1923 (aged 74)

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