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Thomas Lloyd Forster (Tom) Rutledge (1889–1958)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published:

Thomas Lloyd Forster Rutledge (1889-1958), soldier, grazier and politician, was born at Goulburn, New South Wales, on 11 January 1889, eldest child of native-born parents William Forster Rutledge (d.1912), grazier of Gidleigh, Bungendore, and his wife Jane Ruth, née Morphy, sister of (Dame) Alice Chisholm and author of The Goulburn Cookery Book (1899, fortieth edition 1973). A great-nephew of William Rutledge, Tom was educated at King's College, Goulburn. Resident in St Paul's College, he studied arts (1907) and engineering at the University of Sydney until the illness of his father forced him to return to Gidleigh in 1910. He had been in the militia at the university and in November 1910 was commissioned in the 3rd Light Horse.

A lieutenant in the 11th Light Horse in April 1914, Rutledge joined the Australian Imperial Force in November and, promoted major on 16 December, served with the 7th Light Horse in Egypt and on Gallipoli. In October 1915 he was invalided to Malta. Officer commanding the Pioneer Training Battalion from January 1917, he served in France with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion and was mentioned in dispatches in March; from April 1918 he commanded the 4th Pioneer Battalion and was confirmed as lieutenant-colonel in October. His brother Lieutenant Harry Forster Rutledge was killed at Passchendaele, Belgium, on 9 October 1917.

Returning in December 1918 as owner of Gidleigh, Rutledge became chairman of the Bungendore branch of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales and reinforced his family's tradition of diverse local activities, including politics. Dark and dapper, with a clipped moustache, in 1920 he won a Goulburn seat in the Legislative Assembly as a Progressive. It was a confused time for city and country groups opposed to the Labor Party; Rutledge was a 'True Blue', a section of the Progressives headed by (Sir) Michael Bruxner uneasy about a close alliance with the National Party with its strong city links. He was an efficient parliamentarian, but remained concerned about divisions among non-Labor country members, and troubled by the renewed sectarianism aroused by the marriage amendment (ne temere) bill brought down in 1923 by Thomas Ley. Rutledge was a warden of St Philip's Anglican Church, Bungendore. He did not recontest his seat at the 1925 elections.

Concentrating on his rural interests, Rutledge was a council-member of the Graziers' Association in 1921-31 and 1939-42, and of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association from 1925 (president, 1944-46, 1957-58). He pioneered the establishment of imported grasses, notably phalaris, on the Southern Tablelands. A committee-member of the Australian Jockey Club (1927-31), he owned several thoroughbreds: Goose Boy won the A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap in 1944. Energetic and enterprising, he was also a director of Anthony Hordern & Sons Ltd from 1940, the Australian Bank of Commerce Ltd (1924-31) and the Permanent Trustee Co. Ltd (1928-31). He belonged to the Union, Australian and Royal Sydney Golf clubs, and was an enthusiastic fisherman and carpenter. On 29 October 1935 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, he married Helen Roslyn, daughter of Sir Colin Stephen.

In a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 1940, Rutledge compellingly questioned Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies' capacity to lead Australia in World War II and was rebuked by the governor-general Lord Gowrie. From August 1940 to May 1942 he commanded the 7th Light Horse reserves. He died of cancer in Sydney on 13 August 1958 and was cremated. His wife, two daughters and a son survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at almost £200,000.

Not unlike his great-uncle William Forster Rutledge was an impressive representative of the conservative Australian countryman. His rural expertise merged with his engineering skills, soldierly aptitude and business acumen to complement his sporting interests and political experience. His opinions were respected and influential despite a reticence that inhibited familiarity.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Aitkin, The Country Party in New South Wales (Canb, 1972)
  • B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’ (Melb, 1986)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Mar 1920, 21 Jan 1927, 30 Oct 1935, 15 Aug 1958
  • private information.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Rutledge, Thomas Lloyd Forster (Tom) (1889–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 June 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

Life Summary [details]


11 January, 1889
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia


13 August, 1958 (aged 69)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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.