Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Herbert Joseph Larkin (1894–1972)

by Ann G. Smith

This article was published:

Herbert Joseph Larkin (1894-1972), aviator and aircraft manufacturer, was born on 8 October 1894 at South Brisbane, eldest child of Herbert Benjamin George Larkin, a clerk with the Australian United Steam Navigation Co., from Kent, England, and his Queensland-born wife Annie Mary Frances, née McHugh. About 1901 the family moved to Melbourne where Larkin's father (d.1944) was appointed manager of the new Commonwealth Shipping Line in 1916; in 1923-26 he was chairman of the Commonwealth Shipping Board.

'Jimmy' Larkin, educated at St Thomas's Grammar School, Melbourne, worked as a junior clerk for the Union Steam Ship Co. In August 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as corporal, 1st Signal Corps, Royal Australian Engineers. He was signals clerk to Generals Monash and Chauvel in Egypt and on Gallipoli before being wounded in September 1915 and invalided to England. In April 1916 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as temporary second lieutenant and, promoted captain, was posted to No.5 Squadron in France where in March 1917 for 'conspicuously valuable photography and reconnaissance work in connection with the German retreat from Bapaume' he earned the Croix de Guerre avec palme. After a period in England as instructor he joined No.87 Squadron and, returning to France in 1918, brought down eleven enemy aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war Larkin, with his brother Reg and other members of 87 Squadron, formed a Sopwith & Engineering Co. Ltd agency, the Larkin Sopwith Aviation Co. of Australia Ltd. He arrived in Melbourne in July 1919 with his wife Vera Grace Russell, née Doman, whom he had married in St Saviour's Church, London, on 15 March, and concentrated initially on giving 'educational flights' in a Sopwith Dove and on the manufacture of petrol storage systems at his Glenhuntly workshop. On 25 October he claimed the first night flight in Australia when he piloted the Dove over Henley Regatta and in 1920 he organized Victoria's first aerial Derby. Next year when Sopwith went into liquidation he continued as Larkin Aircraft Supply Co. Pty Ltd.

In its heyday LASCO had over 100 employees. In 1925 it produced an Avro 405K and from its Coode Island factory, established in 1927, emerged the Lascoter (1929), probably the first Australian all-metal aircraft, and the three-engined Lasconder (1933), both designed by W. S. Shackleton. The company manufactured gliders (the Australian-designed Lark in 1931), several DH 9A and DH 50A type aircraft and in 1932-33 thirty-two DH Moths. In 1931 a flying school was opened. The Depression, however, was crippling.

Larkin was severely tried over his airline operations. In December 1921 he had won the government airmail contract between Sydney and Adelaide. However, difficulties in raising money and finding suitable aircraft led him into partnership with F. L. Roberts, the successful contractor for the Sydney-Brisbane service. The resulting Australian Aerial Services Ltd began the Adelaide-Sydney run on 2 June 1924 but the Sydney-Brisbane operation was stillborn. In February 1930 Larkin founded the unsubsidized Murray Valley Aerial Services Ltd and in March also commenced a run between Melbourne and Adelaide. But in comparison with Qantas and Western Australian Airlines Larkin's operations did not prosper and his subsidies for the southern mail services were withdrawn in June, leaving him with only the isolated and unprofitable Camooweal (Queensland)-Daly Waters (Northern Territory) service for which he had undercut Qantas in 1928.

Larkin was described by Smith's Weekly as having 'eyes deep set and a little close together, a hard, straight mouth, and a way of glaring hard at the person he is addressing'. The intense competition between the airline companies exacerbated his tactless, impatient temperament. His complaints against the civil aviation authorities erupted in headlines in February 1929 when he accused the former secretary for defence M. L. Shepherd of seeking bribes. The subsequent inquiry held the charges to be unfounded.

In 1932 Larkin antagonized his competitors by establishing the Australian Air Convention to formulate an aviation policy. On 26 February 1934 Western Mining Corporation sued the convention for suggesting that W.M.C. might gain a privately negotiated government subsidy for aerial survey work. Larkin conducted the defence, and lost. In liquidation, his companies' assets were sold to New England Airways, later incorporated into Airlines of Australia for whom he was traffic manager before leaving for Europe in 1937.

Larkin served with the American forces during World War II and, divorced from his wife, he married a widow Hélène Merley, née Castan, on 6 June 1945 in Paris. Little is known of his subsequent career in Germany, Switzerland and France but, divorced a second time in 1956, he next year retired to the Channel Islands from where he campaigned for human rights. A gardener since boyhood, in 1968 he published Bonsai Culture for Beginners. He died at St Martin's, Guernsey, on 20 June 1972, survived by a son and daughter from his first marriage and a son from his second.

Select Bibliography

  • Who's Who in Australia, vol 1 (Melb, 1922)
  • S. Brogden, The History of Australian Aviation (Melb, 1960)
  • H. Fysh, Qantas Rising (Syd, 1965)
  • G. R. Copley, Australians in the Air (Adel, 1976)
  • Sea, Land and Air, Aug 1919
  • Wings (Melbourne), June-Sept 1934
  • Aircraft (Melbourne), 1 May 1936
  • Australian Manufacturer, 12 May 1938
  • Daily Standard, 4 July 1916
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Aug 1916, 7 Dec 1926, 18 Sept 1944
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1927
  • Norman Ellison papers (National Library of Australia)
  • family papers.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Larkin, Herbert Joseph (1894–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 May 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