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Sir Patrick Gordon Taylor (1896–1966)

by Keith Isaacs

This article was published:

Patrick Gordon Taylor (1896-1966), by Norman Carter, 1940

Patrick Gordon Taylor (1896-1966), by Norman Carter, 1940

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3299312

Sir Patrick Gordon Taylor (1896-1966), aviator and writer, was born on 21 October 1896 at Mosman, Sydney, third son of Patrick Thomson Taylor, manufacturer's agent, and his wife Alice Maud(e), née Sayers. As a child he so disliked his Christian names that he called himself 'Bill'. In his dinghy, Query, on Pittwater, he adventured to uninhabited Lion Island and acquired a lifelong love of the sea.

Soon after leaving The Armidale School, where he was senior prefect, Taylor was rejected by the Australian Flying Corps and went to Britain. Commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps on 12 August 1916, he joined No.66 Squadron which was equipped with Sopwith Pup scouts. Awarded the Military Cross in July 1917, he was promoted captain and served with Nos.94 and 88 Squadrons. He later wrote: 'I deplored the killing and all the other evils of war'.

In 1919 Taylor returned to Australia. During the 1920s he flew as a private pilot, worked for De Havilland Aircraft Co. in England, completed an engineering course and studied aerial navigation. He operated a Gipsy Moth seaplane from Sydney Harbour (1928-32) and also flew as a captain with Australian National Airlines Ltd (1930-31).

He was second pilot and navigator in the Fokker Southern Cross on Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's 1933 and 1934 flights (Australia-New Zealand-Australia) and navigator aboard Charles Ulm's Avro Ten Faith in Australia for two flights in 1933 (Australia-England-Australia). Disappointed at missing the Victorian Centenary Air Race, 'Smithy' and Taylor completed the first Australia-United States of America flight, via Suva and Hawaii (21 October–4 November 1934) in the Lockheed Altair, Lady Southern Cross.

On 15 May 1935 Taylor was Kingsford Smith's navigator in the Southern Cross for the King George V jubilee airmail flight (Australia-New Zealand). After flying for six hours, the heavily-laden aircraft had almost reached half-way when part of the centre engine's exhaust manifold broke off and severely damaged the starboard propeller. 'Smithy' closed down the vibrating starboard engine, applied full power to the other two, turned back to Australia and jettisoned the cargo. The oil pressure on the port engine began to fall alarmingly. The flight appeared doomed.

Taylor reacted heroically. Climbing out of the fuselage, he edged his way against the strong slipstream along the engine connecting strut and collected oil from the disabled starboard engine in the casing of a thermos flask. He then transferred it to the port engine. With assistance from the wireless operator, John Stannage, he carried out this procedure six times before the aircraft landed safely at Mascot some nine hours later. For his resourcefulness and courage, Taylor was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal, gazetted on 9 July 1937; it was superseded by the George Cross (instituted in May 1941).

Taylor portrayed his exploit in the 1946 film, Smithy.

From 1935 Taylor operated a succession of Percival Gull Four and Gull Six aircraft on private and charter flying; having visited Britain in 1938, he became agent for Percival Aircraft Ltd in Australia. His marriage on 29 December 1924 in St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, to Yolande Bede Dalley, niece of J. B. Dalley and granddaughter of W. B. Dalley, had quickly proved disastrous; she eventually divorced him in March 1938. On 10 May he married Eileen Joan Broadwood (d.1950) in the Methodist Church, Mosman. He made the first flight across the Indian Ocean from Port Hedland, Western Australia, to Mombasa, Kenya, in the Consolidated flying-boat Guba II on 4-21 June 1939.

Taylor ferried flying-boats from U.S.A. to Australia in 1941. On 9 June 1943 he was commissioned flying officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. Transferring to the Royal Air Force in 1944 as a civilian captain, he ferried aircraft from Canada across the Atlantic Ocean. At his own request, he commanded the R.A.F. Catalina Frigate Bird in September-October 1944 on a pioneer Pacific Ocean survey flight from Bermuda to Mexico, Clipperton Island, New Zealand and Sydney. In March 1951 he flew across the South Pacific from Australia to Chile, via Tahiti and Easter Island, in the Catalina Frigate Bird II.

A writer of distinction, subtle and realistic, Taylor published eight books: Pacific Flight (1935), VH-UXX (1937), Call to the Winds (1939), Forgotten Island (1948), Frigate Bird (1953), The Sky Beyond (Melbourne, 1963), Bird of the Islands (Melbourne, 1964), and Sopwith Scout 7309 (London, 1968). In 1963 he took part in the Australian Broadcasting Commission's television film, An Airman Remembers. Taylor lived at Bayview on Pittwater, where he sailed a 35-ft (11 m) sloop and in 1947 established Loquat Valley School for his daughters. On 4 May 1951 he married Joyce Agnes Kennington at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point.

Chairman of the family firm, P. T. Taylor Pty Ltd, and a director of Trans Oceanic Airways Pty Ltd, 'P.G.' operated the Sandringham 7 flying-boat Frigate Bird III from Sydney on Pacific island cruises in 1954-58. A wiry man, greying at the temples, with crowsfeet edging his blue eyes, he belonged to the Union Club and Royal Aero Club of New South Wales.

Awarded the 1951 Oswald Watt gold medal for his Australia-South America flight and the Johnson memorial trophy of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, London (1951 and 1952), Taylor was knighted in 1954 (and known as Sir Gordon). He died in Queen's Hospital, Honolulu, on 15 December 1966. His ashes were scattered over Lion Island where the dreams of his adventurous life were conceived. His wife, their son and two daughters survived him, as did the two daughters of his second marriage. Norman Carter's portrait of Taylor is held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Frigate Bird II is held by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, and Frigate Bird III by the Musée de L'Air, Le Bourget, France.

As a pilot and navigator, Taylor was a perfectionist, fastidious, demanding, sharp and candid. Yet, his character was complex. Those 'with the patience to come to know him discovered a man of immense sensitivity, intelligence and courage'.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. K. Smith, My Flying Life (Lond, 1937)
  • A. J. Hughes, History of Air Navigation (Lond, 1946)
  • J. Stannage, Smithy (Lond, 1950)
  • L. A. Triebel, The Literature of Flying and Fliers (Syd, 1955)
  • N. Ellison, Flying Matilda (Syd, 1957)
  • O. Tapper, The World's Great Pioneer Flights (Lond, 1975)
  • London Gazette, 26 July 1917
  • Sea, Land and Air, May 1919
  • People (Sydney), 9 May 1951
  • Walkabout, Aug 1967
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Dec 1966
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Keith Isaacs, 'Taylor, Sir Patrick Gordon (1896–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 16 June 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

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