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Charles Thomas Philippe Ulm (1898–1934)

by John McCarthy

This article was published:

Charles Thomas Philippe Ulm (1898-1934), by unknown photographer, 1934

Charles Thomas Philippe Ulm (1898-1934), by unknown photographer, 1934

State Library of New South Wales, Original : Pic.Acc.5116

Charles Thomas Philippe Ulm (1898-1934), aviator, was born on 18 October 1898 at Middle Park, Melbourne, third son of Emile Gustave Ulm, a Parisian-born artist, and his Victorian wife Ada Emma, née Greenland. Charles was educated at state schools in Melbourne and Sydney (after his family moved to Mosman) and began work as a clerk in a stockbroking office. Emulating his grandfather and uncle who had fought in the Franco-Prussian War, as 'Charles Jackson' he enlisted in the 1st Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 16 September 1914: his height of almost six feet (183 cm) gave credence to his stated age of 20. He embarked for Egypt in December and was among the first troops to land at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Wounded in action that month, he was returned to Australia and, as a minor, discharged from the A.I.F. at his parents' request. In January 1917 he re-enlisted under his own name; while serving with the 45th Infantry Battalion on the Western Front, in July 1918 he was badly wounded and evacuated to Britain before being demobilized in March 1919.

Imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit and a vision of successful commercial airlines, Ulm had returned to Sydney with £3000 (from a £50 English investment) and backed several short-lived aircraft companies. On 20 November 1919 at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, he married Isabel Amy Winter. Reckless and restless, Ulm probably went to Western Australia. Having divorced his wife in 1927 and been granted custody of their son, he married Mary Josephine Callaghan on 29 June at North Sydney Congregational Church.

Backed by Sun Newspapers Ltd, in 1927 Ulm and (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith circumnavigated Australia in a Bristol Tourer in 10 days and 5 hours, more than halving the record. They acquired sufficient funds to plan the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States of America to Australia. In a borrowed, three-engined Fokker (later named the Southern Cross) they left Oakland, California, with two American crewmen on 31 May 1928; Ulm acted as co-commander and co-pilot. Facing unknown hazards after Hawaii, they encountered severe tropical storms: they tried to fly above the clouds, but were forced to descend to only two hundred feet (61 m) to avoid running out of fuel before landing at Suva on 5 June. They reached Brisbane on 9 June, after 83 hours and 19 minutes flying time. The journey made Ulm and Kingsford Smith popular heroes: both were awarded the Air Force Cross and given honorary commissions in the Royal Australian Air Force; Southern Cross became their property.

In extreme weather conditions on 10 September they made the first trans-Tasman flight, from Sydney to Christchurch, New Zealand, in fourteen hours. Ulm at last received his pilot's licence. He also enjoyed sailing and belonged to the Royal Air Force Club, London, the (Royal) Aero Club of New South Wales and the Legacy Club of Sydney; he was, as well, a captain in the Ligue Internationale des Aviateurs.

Kingsford Smith and Ulm formed Australian National Airways Ltd in December 1928 to operate unsubsidized passenger, mail and freight services. Deciding in March 1929 to fly to London to buy aircraft, they were lost for thirteen days after Southern Cross was forced to land near the desolate north-west Australian coast. During the massive search, Keith Anderson, a former colleague, died. Although Ulm had previously made suggestive remarks, the rumour that he had arranged the incident to obtain publicity was not substantiated by the Air Inquiry Committee. He flew with Kingsford Smith to London when the flight was resumed on 25 June. Henceforth Ulm devoted himself to managing A.N.A. Hit by the Depression and aircraft losses, the company went into liquidation in February 1933; Ulm bought one of the remaining aeroplanes and renamed it Faith in Australia.

In 1933 he flew this aircraft to England with (Sir) Gordon Taylor as navigator, but, after damaging the aeroplane in Ireland, had to cancel the projected around-the-world flight. Returning to Australia, they established a new record of 6 days, 17 hours and 56 minutes. In April 1934 Ulm flew the first official mail from Australia to New Zealand; in Faith in Australia he completed the return trans-Tasman flight in 28 hours and 44 minutes flying time; he flew the Tasman eight times in all. In August he carried the first official airmail from Australia to New Guinea and back. Hoping to establish a trans-Pacific service between Australia, Canada and the United States, in September he formed Great Pacific Airways Ltd and bought an Airspeed Envoy, Stella Australis, with long-range (3800 miles, 6115 km) fuel tanks. On 3 December 1934, with a crew of two, Ulm flew from Oakland for Hawaii. Stella Australis failed to arrive. Despite an extensive sea search, no trace of it was ever found. Ulm's wife and the son of his first marriage survived him; his estate was sworn for probate at £742.

With dark brown, curly hair and an olive complexion that indicated his French ancestry, Ulm was regarded with considerable affection by those who worked with him.

A practical visionary with a keen sense of humour, he displayed drive, energy, extraordinary precision in thought and courage in adversity. It was his responsibility to arrange the financial and administrative aspects of his flights with Kingsford Smith and his organization was impeccable.

Select Bibliography

  • P. G. Taylor, VH-UXX: The Story of an Aeroplane (Syd, 1937)
  • Notable Citizens of Sydney (Syd, 1940)
  • I. R. Carter, Southern Cloud (Melb, 1963)
  • J. Pickering, The Routes of the Valkyries (Lond, 1977)
  • E. Rogers, Faith in Australia (Syd, 1987)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Jan 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June 1929, 13 Dec 1934
  • Ulm papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John McCarthy, 'Ulm, Charles Thomas Philippe (1898–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 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

Charles Thomas Philippe Ulm (1898-1934), by unknown photographer, 1934

Charles Thomas Philippe Ulm (1898-1934), by unknown photographer, 1934

State Library of New South Wales, Original : Pic.Acc.5116

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jackson, Charles

18 October, 1898
Middle Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


December, 1934 (aged 36)
at sea

Cultural Heritage

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