Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clarence Hunter Northcott (1880–1968)

by Helen Bourke

This article was published:

Clarence Hunter Northcott (1880-1968), schoolteacher, personnel manager and author, was born on 4 November 1880 at Ulmarra, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Joseph Northcott, farmer, and his wife Lydia, née Lee. Clarence attended Ulmarra Public School and passed (1895) the junior public examination. A pupil-teacher from 1897 at three small local schools, he was transferred to Grafton Superior Public School in January 1899. He spent 1902 at Fort Street Training School, Sydney, on a full scholarship and was awarded another to the University of Sydney (B.A., 1905; M.A., 1916). While at university, he taught at Forest Lodge (1903-05) and Fort Street (1905-06) schools.

At the Methodist Church, Grafton, on 5 January 1904 Northcott married Nellie May Francis. From 1906 he was a master at Sydney Grammar School. Influenced by Professor (Sir) Francis Anderson, he advocated the inclusion of sociology in the university curriculum, arguing the need for sociological investigation to furnish data for social planning in Australia. He gave the first sociology classes for the Workers' Educational Association in Sydney in 1915-16.

Northcott left in 1916 for Columbia University (Ph.D., 1918), New York, to work with a noted American sociologist Franklin H. Giddings. His thesis, published as Australian Social Development (New York, 1918), analysed Australia's 'social laboratory': he surveyed the country's experiments with land, race, capital, labour, wealth and education, discerning the working out of the ideal of a progressive social democracy. A study in Giddings's theory of 'social efficiency', the book focused on the industrial sphere. Northcott, who was an active member of the Methodist Church, believed that social science should serve a Christian mission. His early conviction that industrial democracy and co-operation would produce social efficiency and an ethical society remained the guiding philosophy of his career.

In August 19l9, while working with the National Industrial Conference Board at Boston, Northcott was recruited by B. Seebohm Rowntree as statistical adviser to the Quaker enterprise of Rowntree & Co., cocoa and chocolate manufacturers, at York, England. Visiting Australia in 1928, he addressed church and business groups on Rowntree's labour initiatives.

A pioneer in personnel management and industrial relations, Northcott was a founder (1931) of the Institute of Labour Management in Britain. He helped to reshape this body into the Institute of Personnel Management, of which he was president (1941-43) and director (1949-50); he was also involved in organizing the Balliol management conferences. Northcott explained his ideas and labour-management practices in several articles and in his books, Factory Organization (London, 1928) and Personnel Management (London, 1945). In Christian Principles in Industry (London, 1958) he developed his belief that 'rightly considered, industry is a venture in co-operation' in the context of the teaching of the New Testament.

Northcott remained at Rowntree's as labour manager until he retired in 1946. The Colonial Office appointed him to direct a survey in Kenya and he wrote the report, African Labour Efficiency Survey (London, 1949). Survived by his wife and daughter, he died on 26 January 1968 at Scorton, Yorkshire, recognized for his contribution to a new body of professional knowledge, but little remembered for his pioneering sociological study of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • M. M. Niven, Personnel Management 1913-63 (Lond, 1967)
  • J. D. Bollen, Protestantism and Social Reform in New South Wales 1890-1910 (Melb, 1972)
  • L. Dunt, Speaking Worlds (Melb, 1993)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Feb 1917, 18 July 1921, 16, 25 July, 4, 6, 14, 15, 16 Aug, 4 Sept 1928, 7 Feb 1947
  • Times (London), 31 Jan, 2 Feb 1968
  • teachers' records, Department of Education (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Helen Bourke, 'Northcott, Clarence Hunter (1880–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 November, 1880
Ulmarra, New South Wales, Australia


26 January, 1968 (aged 87)
Scorton, Yorkshire, England

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.