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Albert Rinder Townsend (1891–1944)

by Brian Wimborne

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Harry Orton Townsend

Albert Rinder Townsend (1891-1944) and Harry Orton Townsend (1892-1942), public servants, were born on 3 March 1891 and 8 October 1892 at Brunswick, Melbourne, first and second of four children of Victorian-born parents Harry Orton Townsend, clerk, and his wife Frances Mary, née Eastwood. Educated at Moreland State School and at Thomas Palmer's University High School, Albert joined the Victorian Railways in 1907. Later that year he entered the Commonwealth Public Service as a clerk in the accounts branch of the Department of Trade and Customs, a department in which he was to spend the rest of his career. He held clerical positions in the Long Room, in the correspondence and records branch, and on the central staff before being appointed accountant in 1924. At the Baptist Church, Brunswick, on 4 September 1915 he had married Daisy Gay, a clerk.

In 1917-21 Townsend filled the additional role of secretary of the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board. From 1922 he played an important part in the government's administration of the sugar industry. Based in Canberra, he served (1930-31) on the Sugar Inquiry Committee and chaired (from 1931) the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. In 1935 he represented the Commonwealth at a conference of sugar technologists, held in Brisbane. He was official adviser to Richard Gavin (Baron) Casey, leader of the Australian delegation to the International Sugar Conference in London, in 1937.

Townsend's involvement in primary industry was not confined to sugar. In 1930 he was appointed chairman of the Cotton Development Advisory Committee which investigated production levels, experimental work and marketing. He subsequently chaired the Cotton Supplies Committee and the Tobacco Inquiry Committee, and prepared (1940) a departmental report on the building of merchant ships in Australia.

In 1933 Townsend was appointed O.B.E. He was promoted to chief investigation officer in November 1935. His pastimes were reading and playing golf. In March 1944 he retired due to ill health. He died of a ruptured duodenal ulcer on 24 April that year at Allawah Private Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery. His wife, and their daughter and two sons survived him. Described as 'one of the most brilliant men in the Public Service', he exemplified the dedicated, hard-working and apolitical public servant.

Orton Townsend was educated at Wesley College, Melbourne. In 1909 he began work as a clerk on the central staff of the Postmaster-General's Department. On 29 May 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He embarked for Egypt in July and performed clerical duties (from October) at 1st Division headquarters, Gallipoli. Promoted staff sergeant in January 1916, he reached France in March and was attached to I Anzac Corps headquarters. In 1916 he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. He was commissioned quartermaster and honorary lieutenant in May 1917, and promoted captain in August 1918. Transferred to London, he became assistant military secretary to the general officer commanding, A.I.F., in June 1919. That year he was appointed O.B.E. and mentioned in dispatches. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne on 4 June 1920.

Returning to his former department, Townsend worked in the chief accountant's office. In 1922 he transferred (for two years) to the public service of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea in the post of temporary treasurer, based in Rabaul. After several extensions to the time of his transfer, he resigned from the Commonwealth Public Service and was appointed treasurer on 12 January 1929. Visiting Brisbane, he had married 21-year-old Annie Clare Dennis on 27 November 1925 at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Corinda. They were to remain childless and she returned from New Guinea to Australia in 1935. Townsend became chairman of the Territory's Purchase Board in 1932. In the following year he was appointed by the Commonwealth government to New Guinea's first Legislative Council, on which he served until 1942. He was made acting collector of customs in 1936 and commissioner of employees' compensation in 1939. During this time his duties included investigating the feasibility of combining the administrations of the territories of New Guinea and Papua.

In January 1942 the Japanese invaded New Guinea. Townsend was captured while assisting in the evacuation of expatriates from Rabaul. Although his wife received a letter from him while he was a prisoner of war in New Guinea, it was later rumoured that he and more than a thousand other prisoners had been taken on board the Japanese transport Montevideo Maru. On 1 July 1942 that vessel was torpedoed by an American submarine and sunk off Luzon in the Philippines. Unaware of Townsend's fate, James Halligan short-listed him for the position of administrator of the Territory. In 1945, when Japanese records became available, it was confirmed that Townsend and his fellow prisoners had perished. His wife survived him. From humble beginnings, the pipe-smoking Orton Townsend had risen rapidly in both the military and civil services. Like his brother, he typified the conscientious public servant for whom duty was paramount.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1929-31, vol 3, p 39, 1932-34, vol 4, p 2299, 1935-37, vol 3, p 1610
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 24 Aug 1937, p 39
  • Canberra Times, 18 Mar, 25, 26 Apr 1944, 5 Nov 1945
  • A452, item 1959/5892 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Brian Wimborne, 'Townsend, Albert Rinder (1891–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 July 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

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