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.

Cuthbert John Pope (1887–1959)

by W. D. H. Graham

This article was published:

Cuthbert Pope, n.d.

Cuthbert Pope, n.d.

photo from Royal Australian Navy

Cuthbert John Pope (1887-1959), rear admiral, was born on 2 March 1887, at Tring, Hertfordshire, England, son of Rev. Arthur Frederick Pope and his wife Catherine Isabella Ellen, née Rose, of Kilravock Castle, Inverness, Scotland. After education at Winchester College he entered H.M.S. Britannia as a naval cadet in 1902. He served in H.M.S. Euryalus as a midshipman in 1904-05, visiting Australia. Later as a sub-lieutenant and lieutenant (1908) he served in H.M.S. Fantome and H.M.S. Torch and completed a navigation course ashore.

In January 1914 Pope was lent to the Royal Australian Navy for duty at the R.A.N. College (then at Geelong, Victoria). When war broke out he applied to return to the Royal Navy but was appointed to H.M.A.S. Berrima, an armed merchant cruiser, and took part in the Australian occupation of German New Guinea. In October he joined H.M.A.S. Sydney as navigating officer and served in that ship until August 1919. He soon saw his first ship-to-ship action when Sydney destroyed the German cruiser Emden off the Cocos Islands. Sydney was later attached to the Royal Navy, patrolling off the east coasts of North and South America before joining the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea in September 1916. Pope was promoted lieutenant-commander in February and served with the Grand Fleet for the rest of the war.

On 5 September 1918 Pope married Leslie Grant Cooper at Kilravock Castle. He transferred to the R.A.N. in March 1919, returning to Australia in Sydney in June; he then spent a year ashore in Penguin before joining H.M.A.S. Brisbane. Promoted commander in July 1921, he attended the naval staff course at Greenwich, England, and on return joined H.M.A.S. Melbourne as fleet navigating officer. In June 1924 he was appointed to his first command—the sloop Marguerite—and then rejoined Melbourne, later transferring to Sydney, as fleet navigator. In 1927 he attended the first course held at the Imperial Defence College, London, saw exchange service in H.M.S. Hood as staff operations officer, then after some months in Admiralty returned to Australia to become assistant chief of the naval staff and director of naval intelligence at Navy Office. He was promoted captain in December 1929.

In August 1931 Pope took command of H.M.A.S. Albatross—Australia's first aircraft (seaplane) carrier—and in March 1933 became captain superintendent, Sydney, and captain-in-charge, New South Wales. In June 1936 he was appointed captain superintendent training in command of H.M.A.S. Cerberus, Victoria. In June 1939 at his own request he was placed on half-pay for twelve months and visited his mother in England. Arriving soon after war was declared, from November he commanded H.M.S. California, an armed merchant cruiser, until December 1941, serving in the Northern Patrol in sub-Arctic and Icelandic waters, off the north-west coast of Africa and in the Halifax Escort Force.

Pope returned to Australia early in 1942 and was appointed naval officer-in-charge, Darwin, as commodore. He arrived just after the first Japanese air raids. The task of restoring harbour and naval shore facilities destroyed in the early raids was severely hampered by inadequate resources and continuing raids. The few small escort vessels and small craft based at Darwin were hard pressed to meet the many demands made upon them. Supplemented occasionally by a destroyer from the south, local naval forces provided logistic support to Australian troops fighting in Timor, undertook support and rescue missions to and from Dutch islands, and supported religious missions and coast watchers on northern coasts. H.M.A.S. Voyager was lost in September 1942 while landing troops in Timor and H.M.A.S. Armidale was sunk by air attack in December with heavy loss of personnel.

Planning and controlling all these operations imposed a heavy load upon Commodore Pope who had only a small operational staff. By December the strain was affecting his health: the Naval Board appointed him to Western Australia as naval officer in charge from 27 December. He remained there until July 1946. His responsibilities included the berthing, safety and security of naval and merchant ships using the port of Fremantle and search and rescue operations. One extensive operation which Pope planned and directed resulted in all 143 survivors being rescued. In July 1946 he was appointed flag officer in charge, New South Wales, and admiral superintendent, Sydney, as rear admiral, in which rank he retired on 25 September.

A highly professional and dedicated officer, Pope had made a valuable contribution to the development, growth and efficiency of the young Australian navy; he was appointed C.B.E. in June 1935. His service in World War II was recognized by his post-war appointment and promotion which was a fitting climax to his career. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died of cancer in Sydney on 4 August 1959. After a service in St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, and cremation with Service honours, his ashes were scattered at sea.

Pope was a man with the highest personal and professional standards and a staunch Christian. He was brave, sensitive and reticent to the point of shyness but endowed with a dry sense of humour, and devoted to his wife and daughters. His life and character are epitomized in his mother's family motto—'Constant and True'—engraved on a memorial to him in the naval chapel on Garden Island and on a plaque in St Mark's, Darling Point.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1968)
  • C. E. Daw and L. J. Lind, H.M.A.S. Sydney 1913-1929—the Story of a Light Cruiser (Syd, 1973)
  • information from Naval Historical Branch, and Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom
  • personal recollections.

Citation details

W. D. H. Graham, 'Pope, Cuthbert John (1887–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Cuthbert Pope, n.d.

Cuthbert Pope, n.d.

photo from Royal Australian Navy

Life Summary [details]


2 March, 1887
Tring, Hertfordshire, England


4 August, 1959 (aged 72)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.

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.