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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bateson, Charles Henry (1903–1974)

by B. H. Fletcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Charles Henry Bateson (1903-1974), journalist and historian, was born on 4 August 1903 in Wellington, New Zealand, son of Charles Bateson, a company manager from England, and Welsh-born Alice Lowe, née Rossiter. Educated at Hurworth school, Taranaki, Henry compiled the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Annual in 1920. He arrived in Australia in 1922 and married a journalist Coy Catherine Foster-Lynam (d.1962) at St Peter's Anglican Church, East Sydney, on 27 August 1923. Having joined the staff of Ezra Norton's newspaper, the Truth, Bateson won repute as a leader-writer and as a talented administrator; at various times he edited and managed the Melbourne Truth.

During World War II Bateson was publicity officer for the Department of the Interior until appointed principal information officer on 30 December 1940. Later, as a war correspondent, he met two pilots on leave in London, V. P. Brennan and Ray Hesselyn, and collaborated with them in writing Spitfires over Malta (London and Sydney, 1943). In 1944 he published First into Italy (London), an account of the Allied invasion.

Greatly interested 'in the maritime history of Australia and the Pacific, both sail and steam', Bateson regretted having started research 'over late' in life, but even so accomplished much. In The Convict Ships 1787-1868 (Glasgow, 1959) he sought first to stir the readers' imagination by 'sketching the story of the quest for the great southern continent', then to contrast the adventurous spirit of those who participated with the 'drab motives' of the officials involved in dispatching the first fleet. He viewed the convicts as the real pioneers of Australia. The book was well researched and remains the standard work of its kind. Equally interesting was Gold Fleet for California (1963), his study of the men and ships that sailed from Australia and New Zealand for America in 1849. His life of Patrick Logan was published in 1966.

After News Ltd took control of Norton's publications in 1960, Bateson became editorial manager in New South Wales of its subsidiary, Mirror Newspapers Ltd; as a senior executive he organized the launching of the Australian newspaper. On 28 November 1964 he married a travel agent Ann Graham at the registrar-general's office, Sydney. He was a member of the Royal Australian Historical Society and between 1958 and 1966 edited the Log, the journal of what was to become the Nautical Association of Australia. Known as 'Hank', he belonged to the Journalists' and New Zealand clubs in Sydney. Following his retirement in January 1966, he published The War with Japan (1968).

Bateson also contributed several brief monographs to an Oxford University Press series on early Australia. He contemplated writing eight volumes on Australian shipwrecks and published one in 1972 dealing with the period 1622-1850; Dire Strait, a history of Bass Strait, appeared in 1973. His history of Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd remained uncompleted when he died suddenly of coronary vascular disease on 5 July 1974 at his Vaucluse home. He was cremated; his wife survived him, as did the daughter of his first marriage. The Mitchell Library was bequeathed 1300 of Bateson's books, together with 125 boxes, 5 cartons and 1 parcel of his papers, which provide further indication of his industry and knowledge.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Dec 1940
  • Australian, 9 July 1974
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 9 July 1974
  • Bateson's collection of books and correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • shipping records (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

B. H. Fletcher, 'Bateson, Charles Henry (1903–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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