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James Richard William (Bill) Purves (1903–1979)

by Barbara Dawson

This article was published:

James Richard William Purves (1903-1979), philatelist and lawyer, was born on 5 March 1903 at Fulham, London, only son of Australian-born parents James George Purves, solicitor, and his wife Sarah, née Green. J. L. Purves was his grandfather. Bill was born while James and Sarah were visiting England. The family returned to Victoria when he was 4. Educated at Green Vale College, Willaura, and Geelong Church of England Grammar School, he won an exhibition in chemistry, prizes for poetry and a scholarship to Trinity College, University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1925; LL.M., 1937). On 2 May 1927 he was admitted to practice as a barrister and solicitor.

In 1942 he became a senior partner in Purves & Purves. At St John's Anglican Church, Toorak, on 14 February that year he married Patricia Constance Warford-Mein. Commissioned lieutenant, Citizen Military Forces, on 7 August 1940, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in August 1942 and was promoted captain in October. He performed ordnance duties in New Guinea in 1943-44 before being placed on the Reserve of Officers on 28 June 1944.

From his childhood Purves had been an avid collector of marbles, coins, birds' eggs and cigarette cards. Concentrating on stamps, he began to build up an outstanding collection from many countries. His set of Commonwealth of Australia stamps, described as 'the most complete of its kind in the world', won a gold medal at the 1928 International Philatelic Exhibition in Melbourne and was bought in 1930 by King George V, reputedly for £1925. Thereafter, Purves specialized in stamps of the Australian colonies and States (1901-13). His collection won medals in New York, Paris, Prague and Vienna, and championships in Melbourne and Sydney. A member of the (Royal) Philatelic Society of Victoria (president for eight terms between 1929 and 1975) and of the Royal Philatelic Society, London (fellow 1932, honorary life fellow 1969), he also belonged to the Collectors Club, New York.

The study of science at school had taught Purves habits of 'ordered inquiry' which were apparent in his 'meticulous research' into philately. In 1928-30 he edited the Victorian (Australian) Philatelic Record, to which he contributed numerous editorials and articles. He won the Royal Philatelic Society's Tapling medal (1938) for an essay on Fijian stamps and its Crawford medal (1954) for a monograph, The Half-Lengths of Victoria (London, 1953). His other books included The Postal History of the Port Phillip District 1837-1851 (1950) and The ''Emblems'' of Victoria 1857-63 (1957). The Philatelic Congress of Great Britain listed (1937) him on the roll of distinguished philatelists. By 1951 he had been a judge at international exhibitions in New York and London.

Purves was a member of the Melbourne Club, a notary public, solicitor to the Victoria Racing Club and a director (1952-76) of Thomas Cook & Son (Australasia) Pty Ltd. Short and slightly plump, he wore a moustache and dressed conservatively. He was a kindly man, with 'a remarkable memory', who loved music and had played A-grade cricket and golf off scratch. Survived by his wife, and their two daughters, he died on 13 May 1979 at his South Yarra home and was cremated. His collection of stamps filled 350 volumes and he was described as 'one of the world's three greatest philatelists'.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Rogers-Tillstone and F. B. Howard-White, The Royal Philatelic Society, London, 1869-1969 (Lond, 1969)
  • Philately (Boston, US, 1974)
  • People (Sydney), 26 Sept 1951, p 17
  • Philately from Australia, June 1979, p 30
  • Corian, Sept-Oct 1980, p 99
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Mar 1930
  • Australian, 16-17 June 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Barbara Dawson, 'Purves, James Richard William (Bill) (1903–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 March, 1903
London, Middlesex, England


13 May, 1979 (aged 76)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

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