Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Parkes (1890–1953)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published:

Edward Parkes (1890-1953), public servant, was born on 8 June 1890 at Glebe, Hobart, son of Edward Parkes, fitter, and his wife Mary, née Richards. Educated at Scotch College, Launceston, young Edward joined the Tasmanian Civil (Public) Service on 1 December 1905 as a clerk in the Lands and Works Department. In 1911 he transferred to the Premier's Office. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 February 1915, sailed for Egypt in June and served at Gallipoli with the 7th Field Ambulance. On the Western Front in 1916-18 he performed clerical duties at 2nd Divisional headquarters. Granted leave in 1919, he worked in London in the office of the agent-general for Tasmania from April to October.

By January 1920 Parkes had returned to Hobart. Discharged from the A.I.F. on 16 March, he was employed in the Chief Secretary's Department and Premier's Office. On 4 March 1924 at St Stephen's Anglican Church, Sandy Bay, he married Gladys Winifred May Lipscombe. In January 1926 he was appointed a salmon and freshwater fisheries commissioner. Three months later he was promoted chief clerk and secretary to the premier. He had a term as official secretary in the agent-general's office, London, in 1927-28, before being gazetted (1 April 1930) head of his department as under-secretary, clerk to the Executive Council, chief electoral officer and secretary to the premier.

Parkes led an 'awkward department bridging two portfolios often held by different ministers'. He provided support to the premier, cabinet and Executive Council, and administered a number of sub-departments and statutory and non-statutory bodies, among them public buildings and transport, State publicity, the governor's establishment and the Cinema Board. The under-secretary was also required to act in several legal capacities. R. L. Wettenhall wondered 'how much time he spent writing himself letters to keep the records straight'. Parkes was appointed I.S.O. (1932), M.V.O. (1934)—for his work as Tasmanian director for the visit of the Duke of Gloucester—and C.M.G. (1941). He served (from 1939) on the executive of the Civil Defence Legion which the government established as a precaution against air-raids.

Slightly more than six feet (183 cm) tall, Parkes combed his hair flat and dressed conservatively. In December 1943 he was seconded for three months to the office of Tom D'Alton, the Australian high commissioner in New Zealand, who shared his love of sport, especially boxing and football. Parkes's political masters found him 'painstaking and pleasant'. Premier (Sir) Robert Cosgrove, a Labor man, relied on him and became a friend; the Liberals' leader R. C. Townley considered him 'most punctilious about official duties'. Serious-minded and respected by his peers, Parkes was a model public servant of the old school. In August 1951 he was relieved of his duties due to ill health. He died of cerebrovascular disease on 24 March 1953 in St John's Hospital, Hobart, and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. L. Wettenhall, Evolution of a Departmental System (Hob, 1967)
  • R. L. Wettenhall, A Guide to Tasmanian Government Administration (Hob, 1968)
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 23 Apr 1930
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 Jan 1941, 25 Mar 1953
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Parkes, Edward (1890–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 28 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]


8 June, 1890
Glebe, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


24 March, 1953 (aged 62)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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.