Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

George Heynes Spence (1886–1958)

by A. C. Gray

This article was published:

George Heynes Spence (1886-1958), insurance manager, was born on 23 November 1886 at Wallasey, Cheshire, England, son of William Robert Spence, commercial clerk, and his wife Ellen Eliza, née Haycox. He was educated at the Liverpool Institute and School of Art and at a commercial school. Like his father, he joined the staff of the Royal Insurance Co. Ltd at its head office in Liverpool. He migrated to Melbourne in 1913 and was employed there by 'the Royal'. Next year he took over the management of the accident business in Melbourne and Sydney of the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Co. Ltd.

In 1917 Spence joined the state insurance branch of the New South Wales Treasury which carried on a form of self-insurance of state property. On 24 December that year he married Nellie Francis Creaton in Melbourne. He was appointed in 1926 deputy manager of the Government Insurance Office of New South Wales which was formed to ensure that compulsory insurance by employers of workers' compensation risks could be implemented. He was promoted general manager in October 1929. A considerable problem of organization was involved and fell heavily on Spence. A more worrying burden was that successive governments made material alterations in the functions of the GIO. As manager and adviser, he trod a difficult path during the second Lang government and the Depression.

A new general manager was appointed in 1943 when the GIO was reconstituted as a crown corporation: Spence became deputy general manager. Although the office secured a virtual monopoly of the recently introduced compulsory third party (motor-car accident) insurance, its control did not fall directly on Spence who managed a wider business. During World War II he was appointed secretary of the Commonwealth Marine War Risks Insurance Board and was largely responsible for its successful operation.

Spence was deeply religious, with Brethren beliefs, and did not seek self-advancement. His general manager feared that he and Spence might have difficulties, but instead they became firm friends. Spence was meticulous in his work, and did not suffer fools gladly; his hobby was fishing. When he retired to his home at Gordon in 1951, he was spoken of as the 'virtual founder' of the GIO — the insurance branch of the Treasury with a staff of four had grown into the largest general (non-life) insurance office in New South Wales. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, Spence died of coronary vascular disease in Royal North Shore Hospital on 3 April 1958 and was buried with Brethren forms in Northern Suburbs general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Government Insurance Office, Security, June 1945, Aug 1947, Jan 1950, Dec 1951, May 1958, and Annual Report, 1951
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Feb 1952, Apr 1958.

Citation details

A. C. Gray, 'Spence, George Heynes (1886–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 July 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]


23 November, 1886
Wallasey, Cheshire, England


3 April, 1958 (aged 71)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.