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James William Macarthur-Onslow (1867–1946)

by G. P. Walsh

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James William Macarthur-Onslow (1867-1946), by unknown photographer

James William Macarthur-Onslow (1867-1946), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 10354

MACARTHUR-ONSLOW BROTHERS: James William (1867-1946), soldier, grazier and politician, George Macleay (1875-1931), soldier and grazier, and Francis Arthur (1879-1938), grazier and businessman, were born at Camden Park, Menangle, New South Wales, sons of Arthur Alexander Walton Onslow and his wife Elizabeth (1840-1911), daughter of James Macarthur and granddaughter of John Macarthur.

Arthur Onslow died in 1882 and in 1887 their mother took her surviving six children to Europe for their education. She studied dairying in southern England and the metayage share-farming system in Italy and, on returning to Australia in 1889, founded the dairying complex on the Camden estate and installed a relation A. J. Onslow Thompson as manager in 1889-1915. In the 1890s the model dairies and creameries were served by twelve co-operative farms and forty leased farms—the milk and butter were sold on the Sydney market. In 1899 Elizabeth converted the estate into a private company with her children as shareholders and directors. In 1928 the Camden Vale Milk Co., which had been established to produce a special milk for children and invalids, merged with the Dairy Farmers' Co-operative Milk Co. Ltd.

James Macarthur-Onslow was born on 7 November 1867. Educated at Sydney Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., LL.B., 1890), he returned to Australia in 1891 and in February 1892 was commissioned captain in the Camden squadron of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. In 1894-95 he was selected by Major General (Sir) Edward Hutton for special training in India with the 11th Hussars, the Royal Artillery, and the 1st Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps, with which he served in the relief of Chitral expedition including the storming of Malakand Pass and the action at Khar. For these actions he received the Chitral medal with the Malakand clasp. Back in Australia he was promoted major in February 1896 and in 1897 accompanied a detachment of Mounted Rifles to England for Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee celebrations. In April 1898 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel.

During the South African War he went as a special service officer to Cape Town at his own expense, arriving on 11 April 1900. After a period on the staff of the 7th Division he served as aide-de-camp to Hutton from June to October, visited England and returned to Australia in March 1901. He took the 5th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse, to Durban in July 1902 as its commanding officer, but the war had ended and on arrival back in Sydney in August the unit was disbanded. For service in the South African War he received the Queen's medal with four clasps and was mentioned in dispatches; in 1902-09 he was A.D.C. to the governor-general. He commanded the 2nd Light Horse Regiment from July 1903 and in December 1907 was promoted colonel in command of the 1st Light Horse Brigade. From January 1910 he was on the unattached list. Between August 1915 and February 1917 Colonel Macarthur-Onslow made several voyages in the Sea Transport Service of the Australian Imperial Force between Australia, the Middle East and Britain. He was A.D.C. to the governor-general again in 1917-20 and on 7 November 1925 was placed on the retired list with the honorary rank of major general.

Macarthur-Onslow, who had been a prominent supporter of the National Federal Party of (Sir) Edmund Barton, represented Waverley in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1907-13, Bondi in 1913-17 and Eastern Suburbs in 1920-22. Claiming to represent the Liberal interest and later the National Party, he opposed socialism, the Saturday half-holiday and the abolition of capital punishment. In usually short, forthright speeches, he was fond of airing his learning by adverting much to English history. He told the House: 'I shall vote according to my convictions irrespective of party or whip'. In 1922 he was nominated to the Legislative Council where he was usually inactive or on leave; he did not seek election to the council when it was reconstituted in 1933. He was a member of the Australian and Union clubs (Sydney) and the Travellers' Club in London. Gardening and fly-fishing were his chief recreations.

James Macarthur-Onslow, who was for many years chairman of directors of Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, did much to promote the dairy industry through the breeding and showing of dairy cattle. He lived at Gilbulla, Menangle, and, after exchanging houses with his sister Sibella in 1931, at Camden Park. He also inherited Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney, from his great-uncle Sir William Macleay.

He died at Camden Park on 17 November 1946, survived by his wife Enid Emma, née Macarthur and granddaughter of Hannibal Macarthur, whom he had married at St John's Church, Darlinghurst, on 15 December 1897, and by a son and two daughters. He was buried in the family cemetery at Camden Park. His elder daughter Helen Maud (d.1968) married Major General Sir Reginald Stanham and inherited Camden Park; after her death it passed to her son Brigadier Richard Quentin Macarthur-Stanham.

George Macarthur-Onslow was born on 2 May 1875 and was educated at Rugby School, England. He was commissioned in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles on 5 April 1895 and promoted lieutenant next year. In July 1903 he was made a lieutenant in the reorganized 2nd Light Horse. Promoted captain in 1911, next year he was appointed commanding officer of the 9th Light Horse Regiment. In February 1914 he was promoted major and, in December after joining the Australian Imperial Force, was appointed second-in-command of the 7th L.H.R. under Lieutenant-Colonel J. M. Arnott.

The 7th reached Egypt in February 1915 and after completing its training at Maadi saw service as a dismounted unit at Gallipoli between May and December. After a period of illness which necessitated return to Egypt, Macarthur-Onslow took command of the 7th Light Horse in October. On 17 December he organized the famous cricket match at Shell Green two days before the final evacuation of Anzac Cove.

On 5 August 1916 he was severely wounded in the counter-attack at Romani which put him out of action for three months. For outstanding work he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches. Returning to duty with his regiment he played a conspicuous part in all the subsequent operations at Gaza, Beersheba, the pursuit up the Philistine Plain and the raids across the Jordan into Amman and Es Salt, displaying outstanding leadership. He was rewarded with the temporary command of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade from May to August 1918 during the absence of Brigadier General (Sir) Granville Ryrie. In September he was promoted colonel and temporary brigadier general commanding the 5th Light Horse Brigade for the advance on and capture of Damascus. In January 1919 he contracted typhoid fever and four months later was invalided back to Australia. For his war service since December 1916 he was twice more mentioned in dispatches, awarded the Order of the Nile (3rd class) and appointed C.M.G.

After the war Macarthur-Onslow held appointments in various light horse militia units. In 1920-23 he was an honorary A.D.C. to the governor-general and in 1927-31 temporary colonel-commandant of the 1st Cavalry Division. In addition to military matters he was general manager and a director of Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, and took a close interest in local affairs, being a councillor of the Wollondilly Shire, alderman of Camden Council and four times mayor of Camden.

George Macarthur-Onslow was a genial, fresh-faced six-footer who loved wit and good company and was respected and beloved by many. Though quick-tempered, he soon forgave and forgot. As befitted a countryman he had a shrewd sense of ground; according to General Sir Harry Chauvel, 'He was a born cavalry leader, full of dash and initiative, quite fearless, at the same time possessing the entire confidence of his men'.

He died of pneumonia on 12 September 1931 at his residence, Murrandah, Camden, and was buried in the family cemetery. He had married at Manar, near Braidwood, Violet Marguerite Gordon on 16 October 1909. She and their daughter survived him.

Francis Arthur Macarthur-Onslow, known as Arthur, was born on 7 June 1879 and was educated at Rugby and Exeter College, Oxford. On 29 April 1897 he was commissioned in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles and in July 1899 promoted lieutenant. He served in the South African War in 1900-01 where he was attached to the 7th Dragoon Guards. He saw active service in Cape Colony, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal including the actions at Johannesburg, Diamond Hill and Belfast for which he received the Queen's medal with five clasps. He returned to Australia in 1902 after recuperating in London from rheumatic fever. In 1907 he transferred to the reserve of officers and in 1919 was placed on the retired list with the rank of lieutenant.

Engaged at first in sheep-raising, from 1916 at Macquarie Grove, he became a director of Camden Park Estate Pty Ltd, Camden Vale Milk Co. and the Dairy Farmers' Co-operative Milk Co. In 1924 the herd became the only one in the State tested for tuberculosis. He was three times mayor of Camden. After a time as managing director of the estate he retired to the city and became involved with real estate. A keen racing man he had his own track and stud at Camden. He was a member of the Australian Jockey and Australian clubs and a leading Freemason. He travelled extensively overseas.

Arthur Macarthur-Onslow died suddenly of cerebral haemorrhage in Sydney on 3 March 1938 and was buried in the family cemetery. He was survived by his wife Sylvia Seton Raymond, née Chisholm, whom he had married on 16 May 1903 at Goulburn, and by three sons and a daughter. The eldest son, later Major General Sir Denzil, carried on the family's military tradition and dairying activities.

Select Bibliography

  • Camden Park Estate: Australia's Oldest Pastoral Property (Syd, nd)
  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • H. S. Gullett, The A.I.F. in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1937)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 30 Sept 1931, 1 Feb 1940
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Oct 1931, 16 Mar 1938
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 12 Sept 1907
  • Town and Country Journal, 8 Jan 1908
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14, 15 Sept 1931, 23 Dec 1932, 4, 5 Mar 1938, 18 Nov 1946
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Macarthur-Onslow, James William (1867–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James William Macarthur-Onslow (1867-1946), by unknown photographer

James William Macarthur-Onslow (1867-1946), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 10354

Life Summary [details]


7 November, 1867
Camden, New South Wales, Australia


17 November, 1946 (aged 79)
Camden, New South Wales, Australia

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