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Sir Hamilton Morton Howard Sleigh (1896–1979)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Sir Hamilton Morton Howard Sleigh (1896-1979), company director, was born on 20 March 1896 at South Yarra, Melbourne, only child of English-born parents Harold Crofton Sleigh, shipping agent, and his wife Marion Elizabeth, née Chapple. Hamilton's education and early experience of work were designed to prepare him for assuming his father's interests in shipping, timber and petroleum. After attending St Oswald's Preparatory School at Clifton, near Bristol, England, and the Grange Preparatory School, South Yarra, he travelled with his parents on the Trans-Siberian Railway to England again in 1909 and entered Sherborne School, Dorset, in 1911.

In 1913 Sleigh worked for the Westinghouse Bremsen Gesellschaft at Hanover, Germany, lived with a German family and learned the language; a similar sojourn with a French family was prevented by World War I. Following a year in London with Arbuthnot, Latham & Co., merchant bankers, he went to sea in 1915 as a 'very junior purser', came to Australia in the Parattah and joined his father's firm. On 14 December 1917 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. In 1918-19 he served in England as an air mechanic in the Australian Flying Corps. He returned home via the United States of America. Discharged from the A.I.F. on 26 September 1919, he resumed work with H. C. Sleigh Pty Ltd. In 1924 he was made a partner. Two of his earliest tasks were to supervise the export of cattle from Darwin to the Philippines and of railway sleepers from Bunbury, Western Australia, to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). At the Presbyterian Church, Toorak, Melbourne, on 17 December 1926 he married Doris Marguerita Halbert (d.1968).

Chairman and chief executive after his father's death in 1933, Hamilton expanded the firm's operations. A wholly owned subsidiary firm, H.C.S. Coasters Pty Ltd, was formed and three ships were bought for the trans-Tasman timber trade. New seaboard facilities were constructed to handle petroleum imports and arrangements were made (1939) to distribute Golden Fleece products in Tasmania. During World War II the firm developed and sold gas producers for motor vehicles. H. C. Sleigh became a public company in 1947, with a paid up capital of £800,000. The Singapore Navigation Co. Ltd, another subsidiary, took delivery in 1952 of an ocean-going tanker, the Harold Sleigh. More bulk-carriers were acquired. In the 1950s the parent company introduced modern, 'one brand only', drive-in service stations, began selling better quality petrol, built additional ocean terminals, moved to new offices in Melbourne, and took over Purr Pull Oil Pty Ltd in New South Wales and Queensland.

Sleigh's other business interests included directorships of Amalgamated Petroleum N.L., Associated Australian Oilfields N.L., Australian Lubricating Oil Refinery Ltd, Botany Bay Tanker Co. (Australia) Pty Ltd, Flinders Shipping Co. Pty Ltd, Australian & Eastern Insurance Co. Ltd, Bath Holdings Ltd, Derby Holdings Ltd and Petersville Australia Ltd. He was president (1961-69) of the Australian Hospital Association and vice-president of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. For his services in Melbourne as honorary consul for Finland, he was appointed to the Order of the White Rose and the Order of the Lion of Finland. The doyen of the Australian petroleum industry, he was knighted in 1970 and retired in favour of his son Peter in June 1975.

On 28 March 1973 at St John's Church of England, Toorak, Sleigh had married Brenda Dodds (d.1976), née Wood, a widow. Tall and slim, he was a kindly, soft-spoken, urbane and conservative man, though he could be blunt and hard hitting, especially against the Whitlam government and its royal commission into the petroleum industry. In an interview on the eve of his retirement he criticized modern social trends, youth and education, but wisely admitted that he did not know the answers. Sir Hamilton was a member of the Australian clubs in Melbourne and Sydney. Farming on his property, Bayunga, near Nagambie, was his main recreation. He died on 24 November 1979 at Parkville and was cremated with Anglican rites. The two sons of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. C. Sleigh Ltd, The First Sixty Years (Melb, 1956?)
  • People (Sydney), 29 Dec 1954, p 42
  • Petroleum Gazette, 18, no 3, 1974, p 85
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Dec 1946, 15 Mar, 17, 20 Aug 1951, 30 Aug, 26 Oct 1959, 26 May 1960, 20 May 1963, 7 Mar 1964, 13 June 1970, 4 June, 9 Nov 1974
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1967, 26 Nov 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Sleigh, Sir Hamilton Morton Howard (1896–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 June 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]


20 March, 1896
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


24 November, 1979 (aged 83)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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