Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Cattell (Barney) Somerville (1877–1959)

by J. K. Haken

This article was published:

George Cattell Somerville (1877-1959), soldier and administrator, was born on 13 July 1877 at Goulburn, New South Wales, son of John Blakely Somerville, bank officer, and his wife Frances Clara, née Phillips, both Sydney born. The family lived at Morpeth in 1880-84, in Sydney in 1885-89 and then in Brisbane where John became manager of the Woollongabba branch of the Royal Bank of Queensland. George was educated at the Normal School, and at Brisbane Grammar School in 1893-94. His early employment was in insurance (1895-97) and banking (1897-99); he then spent six years with his family on a farm at Millers Forest, New South Wales.

Having joined the Raymond Terrace-Dungog Squadron of the 4th Light Horse as a trooper in 1905, Somerville was commissioned in 1906 and promoted lieutenant in 1908. Appointed to the Australian Military Forces as a lieutenant in 1911, he served on the Administrative and Instructional Staff in Queensland until 1913 when he became adjutant of the 11th Light Horse at Goulburn, New South Wales. With the outbreak of World War I he served briefly as a temporary general staff officer in Queensland before joining the Australian Imperial Force on 20 November 1914 as captain and adjutant of the 6th Light Horse Regiment. The unit embarked for Egypt in December and saw action at Gallipoli (with Somerville as adjutant and temporary major) from May to December 1915. Somerville's career as a staff officer began at Gallipoli with his promotion to major and his appointment as deputy assistant adjutant and quartermaster general, 1st Division, A.I.F., on 1 October. Wounded by shrapnel on 3 December, he was evacuated to Egypt and resumed duty as D.A.A. and Q.M.G. there in March 1916, before sailing for the Western Front in April.

In France, in October, Somerville was promoted lieutenant-colonel and assistant adjutant and quartermaster general, 2nd Division, A.I.F. From December 1917 to November 1918 he was assistant quartermaster general with Headquarters, 1st Australian Army Corps, and was then a director in the Repatriation and Demobilisation Department, A.I.F., London, until 31 March 1919 when his A.I.F. appointment ended. For his war service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Belgian Croix de Guerre, appointed C.M.G., and mentioned in dispatches five times. After attending (1919-20) the Staff College, Camberley, England, he returned to Australia and was appointed chief inspector of administration, Inspector General's Branch, Army Headquarters, Melbourne; a year later he was allotted to the Staff Corps as a major with brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1921-23 he was a general staff officer, grade 2. His final A.M.F. posting was temporary district commandant and district base commandant in Victoria in 1923-24; he retired in November 1924. During World War II he was deputy director of recruiting, Eastern Command, 2nd A.I.F., in 1940-41.

From 1924 to 1954 Somerville was secretary and chief executive officer of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and acted as its spokesman on administrative and agricultural matters. He was secretary of many associated breed societies and a judge at rural shows. He was also involved in charitable and civic activities, being a founder of the Legacy movement in New South Wales and its foundation president in 1926-27. Another long-standing connexion was with the National Roads & Motorists Association: a councillor from September 1932 until his death, he was also a member of its board of management, a director of N.R.M.A. Insurance Ltd and a councillor of the Automobile Association of Australia. In the 1930s he was a prominent member of the Old Guard, a conservative paramilitary organization active in New South Wales. Known to his friends as 'Barney', he was 'an easy mixer and well-liked'.

Somerville had married Brenda Elsie Holland at St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 4 February 1911. Survived by three daughters, he died in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, on 20 May 1959 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. Berrie, Under Furred Hats (Syd, 1919)
  • B. H. Fletcher, The Grand Parade (Syd, 1988)
  • Open Road, 1 July 1959
  • Sabretache, Apr-June 1989, and for bibliography
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22, 23 Oct 1924, 21 May 1959
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Additional Resources

Citation details

J. K. Haken, 'Somerville, George Cattell (Barney) (1877–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 July, 1877
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia


20 May, 1959 (aged 81)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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