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.

Charles Melville Macnaghten (1879–1931)

by Chris Clark

This article was published:

Charles Melville Macnaghten (1879-1931), solicitor and soldier, was born at Rhutenpore, India, on 18 November 1879, eldest son of (Sir) Melville Leslie Macnaghten and his wife Dora Emily, daughter of Rev. R. E. Sanderson. He spent his early life in East Bengal where his father managed family estates but in 1888 the family returned to England and his father began a distinguished career at Scotland Yard. Charles went to Eton in 1893 and in 1898 entered Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1901).

Arriving in Sydney from India about 1903, he married Yorkshire-born Annetta Nina Thirza ('Nettie') Hopcroft at the New Unitarian Church, Pitt Street, on 30 December 1904. In June he had commenced his solicitor's articles with T. J. Hughes, transferring to A. W. Hyman in December 1905; illness delayed his examinations and he was finally admitted to practice in November 1908. It was said that 'the close and concentrated study of those years adversely affected a highly-strung, sensitive temperament'. He began practice on his own account but in 1913 joined the law firm of Dodds & Richardson.

Macnaghten was interested in military affairs. In May 1909 he was appointed second lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, New South Wales Scottish Rifle Regiment, and in November 1910 was promoted lieutenant and appointed temporary area officer for Woolloomooloo district in anticipation of the introduction of universal military training. He was transferred to the 25th Infantry Regiment in July 1912 and to the 26th a year later. In December 1913 he was promoted major.

Described by Charles Bean as 'distinguished by a vigorous impetuosity', Macnaghten threw himself into his work, training senior cadets in a half-slum district 'in which the bane of area-officers, the larrikin, was probably strongest'. He taught drill to unit officers on the flat roof of the University Club's premises in Castlereagh Street and his cadet battalion became known as the best in Sydney. Twenty years later a colleague recalled 'Macnaghten in his Glengarry, tight-fitting short tunic, plaid breeches, and dark blue puttees, with his masterful face, heavy shoulders, and slim legs, striding on to parade, and his … vibrant compelling voice ringing out the command “Par-r-rade, 'shun”'.

With the raising of the Australian Imperial Force, Macnaghten was appointed second-in-command of the 4th Battalion on 15 August 1914. According to the official war history, Macnaghten and Colonel H. N. MacLaurin, in command of the 1st Brigade, 'working together, largely influenced the choice of officers throughout this brigade'. On Gallipoli on 26 April 1915, when a verbal order for a general advance was mistakenly received, it was Macnaghten's impulsive advice to Lieutenant-Colonel A. J. Onslow Thompson ('I'll take the right, Colonel, if you'll take the left') which sent the 4th Battalion on an unplanned attack without objective against Lone Pine. Macnaghten was shot twice in the chest and throat, and a note written from his stretcher was the first hint received by the staff that the sole unit of the 1st Division intact after the landing had been decimated. He returned to the unit in June and on 14 July was appointed to command with rank of lieutenant-colonel. During the Turkish counter-attack on Lone Pine on 7 August Macnaghten was wounded in the knee, and evacuated to England. He resumed command in December in time for the evacuation of the peninsula. In January 1916 he was appointed C.M.G. and mentioned in dispatches for his Gallipoli service. Appointed camp commandant at Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, in February he was hospitalized next month and returned to Australia, his A.I.F. appointment being terminated in September.

Ordered to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, as a member still of the Australian Military Forces, Macnaghten became restive and attempted to return to the war but was refused permission on medical grounds. Reportedly disguising his limp and altering his appearance, and without telling even his family, he went to Queensland and re-enlisted in October as a private in reinforcements for the 9th Battalion as 'Ciam MacMilville'. He embarked for England and was sent to France in April 1917 as a second lieutenant in the 13th Battalion. Next month his identity was discovered; no action was taken apart from amending his name in orders, though back in Australia army authorities were seeking him and preparing to declare him a deserter. He was wounded in action in June but remained on duty. In July he was again in hospital and briefly returned to duty, but was discharged from the A.I.F. in England on 10 October as permanently unfit.

Macnaghten remained in England for a time and then went to Canada, drifting to Montreal in 1924 where he was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. as an accountant until 1930. On 4 February 1931 he died of pneumonia in his rooms at Notre Dame de Grace and was cremated. He left no children.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • London Gazette, 11, 28 Jan 1916
  • Scottish Australasian, Aug 1916
  • Reveille (Sydney), 28 Feb 1931
  • Times (London), 24 Feb 1912, 30 Mar 1914, 13, 17, 19 May 1921, 7 Feb 1931
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4, 5 Apr 1912, 13 Feb 1931
  • Gazette (Montreal), 6 Feb 1931
  • Montreal Daily Star, 6 Feb 1931
  • Herald (Montreal), 7 Feb 1931
  • Argus (Melbourne) 9 Feb 1931
  • Globe (Toronto), 9 Feb 1931
  • Bulletin, 11 Feb 1931
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Macnaghten, Charles Melville (1879–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 July 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

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • MacMilville, Ciam

18 November, 1879
Rhutenpore, India


4 February, 1931 (aged 51)
Notre Dame de Grace, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.