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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bridges, Sir George Tom Molesworth (1871–1939)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Sir George Tom Molesworth Bridges (1871-1939), lieutenant-general and governor, was born on 20 August 1871 at Park Farm, Eltham, Kent, England, third son of Major Thomas Walker Bridges and his wife Mary Ann, née Philippi. Educated at Newton Abbot College and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he was commissioned in 1892 and spent his early service in India and Nyasaland. In the South African War for a few months in 1901 he commanded the 5th and 6th Western Australian (Mounted Infantry) Contingents. On 14 November 1907 in London, he married a widow, Janet Florence Marshall, née Menzies; they had one daughter. 

In World War I during the retreat from Mons, Bridges found at St Quentin two exhausted British battalions whose commanding officers had assured the mayor that they would surrender to save the town from bombardment. Despite a shattered cheekbone and concussion, Bridges rallied the men with a tin whistle and toy drum and led them off to rejoin General French's army. The incident became famous. Appointed C.M.G. in 1915, Bridges received many foreign decorations and rapid promotion to major general. He lost a leg at Passchendaele and subsequently led two war missions overseas. For exploits in the Balkans, Russia and Asia Minor, he was appointed K.C.M.G. (1919) and K.C.B. (1925). His uncle Robert Bridges, the poet laureate, honoured him with an ode, 'To His Excellency'.

In 1922, at the instigation of his friend and admirer (Sir) Winston Churchill, Sir Tom accepted appointment as governor of South Australia on specially favoured terms; he arrived in Adelaide in December. A thorough conservative, he was a staunch defender of capital punishment and the Legislative Council, scorned indolent 'unemployables', and was popular with returned servicemen. Two themes dominated his speeches: the horrors of Bolshevism and the desirability of promoting immigration. He played bridge at the Adelaide Club almost daily and the Colonial Office staff found that his reports reflected the opinions of 'the usual government house entourage' and lacked 'independent judgment'. When the prohibition issue loomed, Bridges created a storm by entertaining a Licensed Victuallers' dinner with quotations from G. K. Chesterton's drinking songs and hilarious prohibition stories.

Bridges had private quarrels with the Labor ministries of 1924-27. He was incensed when the premier, John Gunn, published a secret memorandum from a former premier to the governor. Gunn refused to apologize or to compel his attorney-general W. J. Denny to correct an allegation that the British government made retired army officers governors to be 'relieved of the payment of [their] military pensions'. When Labor ministers blundered, through ignorance of convention or Imperial decisions, Bridges received no thanks for helping to right their mistakes. He refused a second term and returned home in 1927.

Bridges had studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, University of London, and was a competent painter. Many of his Australian oils and water-colours were sold for charity at one-man exhibitions in Adelaide and London. In retirement he wrote his memoirs, Alarms and Excursions (1938). His private papers were destroyed in World War II, but a diary-extract recording a visit to the Northern Territory in 1923 survives in the Public Record Office, London. Predeceased by his wife he died at Brighton on 26 November 1939.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-40
  • P. A. Howell, ‘Varieties of vice-regal life in South Australia’, JHSSA, no 3 (1977)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 Nov 1939
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 27 Nov 1939, p 8
  • information from Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives (London)
  • CO 532/223, 233, 272, 308, DO 35/2, 23 (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Bridges, Sir George Tom Molesworth (1871–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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