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Sir Thomas Chester Manifold (1897–1979)

by Andrew Lemon

This article was published:

Thomas Chester Manifold (1897-1979), by unknown photographer

Thomas Chester Manifold (1897-1979), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria

Sir Thomas Chester Manifold (1897-1979), grazier and racing administrator, was born on 13 May 1897 at Talindert, near Camperdown, Victoria, second child and only son of James Chester Manifold, grazier, and his wife Lilian Eva, née Curle. Chester ('Chetty' to his friends) was a grandson of John Manifold and a nephew of William Manifold. He grew up at Talindert (7500 acres, 3035 ha), his father's share of Purrumbete station, and was educated at Camperdown and (from 1912) Geelong Church of England grammar schools. Photographs show a deep-chested schoolboy with dark good looks who excelled at sport. His upbringing inspired in him an understanding of tradition, a sense of duty and an appreciation of outdoor life.

At the end of 1915 Manifold sailed for Britain. Commissioned on 24 September 1916 in the Royal Field Artillery, he served with the 76th Brigade on the Western Front. Serious injuries at Ypres, Belgium, in September 1917 left him in hospital for three months. After the war he entered Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied agriculture and political economy, and stroked the college VIII that was 'Head of the River' in 1920. Returning to Australia late that year, he worked with the Geelong woolbrokers, Dennys, Lascelles Ltd, before taking over the management of Talindert in 1922.

At St Paul's Anglican Church, Frankston, on 22 May 1923 Manifold married Agnes Gwendolen, daughter of Harold William Grimwade; they settled at Gnarpurt, Manifold's sheep station near Lismore. Immediately he was pressed into public duty as a vestryman, a hospital committee-man, and as a member (1926-40) of the Hampden Shire Council (president 1938). In a wider sphere, Manifold defeated (1929) the Labor incumbent for the Legislative Assembly seat of Hampden, and represented the Young Nationalists at the convention in May 1931 that established the United Australia Party. At the May 1932 election Manifold was unopposed. A minister without portfolio in Sir Stanley Argyle's coalition government, he was soon disillusioned by its stringent economic policies and was unhappy as a politician, later saying that 'the insincerity was hard to take'. His health broke down in 1933; he resigned from cabinet on 24 November and did not recontest his seat.

The next few years were more congenial. In 1936 Manifold moved back to Talindert with his family and established a racehorse stud. Elected to the Victoria Racing Club committee in 1937, he was to win the V.R.C. St Leger with Arbroath (1953). On 13 February 1940 he was mobilized in the Militia. Transferring to the Australian Imperial Force on 4 August 1942, Major Manifold served briefly in Papua and was mentioned in dispatches. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 4 May 1943. Promoted lieutenant colonel, he commanded the 7th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps, until 21 January 1946.

It was to racing that Manifold next devoted most of his energies, campaigning tirelessly against punitive taxation. As V.R.C. chairman (1951-62), he lobbied for legalization of the off-course totalizator against a powerful alliance of churches and bookmakers. Knighted in 1953, he was by then a solid, imposing figure whose silver hair and bushy eyebrows suggested owl-like wisdom. Sir Chester was a persuasive advocate. Under the premier (Sir) Henry Bolte, Victoria established Australia's first Totalisator Agency Board in 1961, with rigorous restrictions insisted upon by Manifold, who was appointed chairman. Elevated to K.B.E. in 1965, he remained in the post until 1968, and continued on the V.R.C. committee until 1972.

The hospitality of the Manifolds was a byword, with the sojourn of Princess Alexandra of Kent at Talindert in 1959 a local high point. This regal gloss assured the success of subsequent charitable open days. In the 1960s the Manifolds supported the successful campaign to save nearby Mount Sugarloaf from quarrying. Although Sir Chester reduced his interstate landholdings, he remained active at Talindert. He belonged to the Melbourne, Athenaeum, and Naval and Military clubs. His later years were crowned by the achievements of his champion steeplechaser, Crisp: taken to England for the 1973 Grand National, the gelding finished a courageous second, three-quarters of a length behind Red Rum. Survived by his wife and three daughters, Manifold died on 6 January 1979 at Camperdown hospital and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $1,426,196.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • N. Chapman, Historic Houses of Western Victoria (Colac, Vic, 1965)
  • J. Pacini, A Century Galloped By (Melb, 1988)
  • A. W. Martin, Robert Menzies, vol 1 (Melb, 1993)
  • J. J. Corfield and M. Collins Persse (compilers), Geelong Grammarians, vol 1 (Geelong, Vic, 1996)
  • Pastoral Homes of Australia, 1, 1910
  • Camperdown Chronicle, 14 Nov 1929, 23 Nov 1933, 9 Jan 1979
  • Australian, 13 Mar 1968, 20 Nov 1972
  • Times (London), 2 Apr 1973
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Jan 1979.

Citation details

Andrew Lemon, 'Manifold, Sir Thomas Chester (1897–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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