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John Paul Quinn (1919–1961)

by Mike Fogarty

This article was published:

John Paul Quinn (1919-1961), diplomat, was born on 26 February 1919 at Paddington, Sydney, elder child of Victorian-born parents Michael Joseph Quinn, telephone mechanic, and his wife Mary Josephine, née Nugent. Educated at Sydney Boys' High School, John showed an interest in mechanical and scientific things, as well as proficiency in German. He read languages at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1938), graduated with first-class honours in French and German, and won the university medal for French and a French government scholarship to the University of Paris.

Having studied at the Sorbonne, Quinn returned home in 1939 and was employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In 1940 he joined the Department of External Affairs. Next year he travelled with Sir Frederic Eggleston to Rangoon before moving to Singapore to take up his appointment as political secretary to the Australian official representative V. G. Bowden. Hours before the British base surrendered to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, Bowden and his staff left the island in a motor launch. The party was captured, Bowden executed, and Quinn interned at Palembang, Netherlands East Indies. Despite his youth, he became one of the camp's most respected figures, especially for his work as a hospital orderly and in bridging differences between Dutch, British, Australian and Eurasian prisoners. Although he was released in 1945, his internment affected his health for the rest of his life.

In 1946 Quinn was placed in charge of the Department of External Affairs' Sydney office. While private secretary (1947-48) to Dr H. V. Evatt, he accompanied the minister on a visit to Japan. Posted in 1948 as first secretary (later counsellor and chargé d'affaires) to The Hague, he joined the Australian delegation to the third session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, held in Paris. At St George's Church, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, on 2 August 1949 he married an Australian, Josephine Margaret Paton, with the forms of the Church of Scotland. In May 1950 he was transferred to London as external affairs officer (counsellor); his subsequent assignments included Pretoria (acting high commissioner 1951-52) and Saigon (minister 1952-54).

Again in Canberra in 1954-60, Quinn served as head of the department's South and South-East Asian branch, and of the defence liaison branch, during a crucial period in the evolution of Australia's foreign policy. In 1957 he was appointed O.B.E. From November 1960 he was based in Cairo as minister (ambassador April 1961). He was killed on 12 September 1961 when the Air France jet on which he was travelling to Morocco crashed near Rabat, with no survivors; his remains were brought to Sydney and buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. His wife and their two daughters survived him, as did their son John who entered the diplomatic service in 1979.

Highly regarded for his perceptiveness and professionalism, Quinn was remembered for his strength of character, gentle sense of humour, modesty and genuine interest in others. He was also noted for his skills as an amateur photographer, especially of children.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Horner et al, John Paul Quinn (priv pub, Canb, 1968)
  • A. Watt, Australian Diplomat (Syd, 1972)
  • A. Stirling, On the Fringe of Diplomacy (Melb, 1973)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Sept 1961
  • Times (London), 14 Sept 1961.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Mike Fogarty, 'Quinn, John Paul (1919–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 July 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

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