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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Campion, Sir William Robert (1870–1951)

by G. C. Bolton

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

Sir William Robert Campion (1870-1951), governor, was born on 3 July 1870 in London, son of Colonel William Henry Campion and his wife Gertrude, née Brand, sister of Viscount Hampden. Educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, where he took fourth-class honours in history, he became a member of the London Stock Exchange at the time of the Western Australian mining boom of the 1890s. A Liberal Unionist in politics, he twice unsuccessfully stood for the House of Commons before being returned at a by-election in June 1910; he held his seat till 1924 as a strong advocate of economic and defence co-operation within the British Empire. On 5 July 1894 he had married Katherine Mary Byron.

During World War I, Campion was colonel commanding the 4th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment at Gallipoli. Invalided late in 1915, he went to France in 1916 commanding the 15th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, and transferred to the 6th Bedford Regiment. Awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned three times in dispatches, he returned to the Royal Sussex Regiment for service with the army of occupation in Germany.

In June 1924 Campion was appointed governor of Western Australia. Back-bench supporters of the prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, complained of an appointment from the Conservative Party, but from October 1924 to June 1931 Campion worked with Labor and Nationalist premiers alike in harmony during a period without major political crises. Bald with prominent blue eyes, Campion was regarded as the pattern of an English gentleman; he and his wife were highly popular. They travelled widely in Australia and he was particularly active in the Toc H Society. He presided with dignity over the State's centennial celebrations in 1929.

On his return to England in 1931 Campion retired to his country house in Sussex, but spoke frequently in favour of organized migration to Australia, in support particularly of the Fairbridge Farm and other schemes involving young people. He was a member of the Empire Settlement Committee in 1935. He also accepted appointment as chairman of a number of gold-mining companies promoted by Claude de Bernales, such as the Anglo-Australian Gold Development Co. and the Commonwealth Mining and Finance Co. Ltd. He visited Australia with de Bernales in 1935-36 to inspect properties and in 1939, on the board of the Great Boulder Pty Ltd, faced with him an attack by a dissident group of share-holders. When de Bernales tried to transfer the company to Australia in 1940, the compensation proposed for Campion and other directors was criticized as excessive. An investigator from the Board of Trade was not satisfied that the directors had done their duty, but no action was taken. Campion died at Hassocks, Sussex, on 2 January 1951, survived by his wife and three children.

Select Bibliography

  • Chemical Engineering and Mining Review, 10 July 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17, 18, 23 May 1929, 5, 12 May 1930, 26 June 1939, 23 Sept 1940
  • Times (London), 18 June 1924, p 16, 26 June 1934, p 16, 20 May 1935, p 19, 24 June 1939, pp 19 and 20, 1 July 1940, p 9, 23 Sept 1940, p 7, 27 Mar 1947, p 3, 4 Jan 1951, p 8
  • West Australian, 9 May 1934, 5 Jan 1951
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 30 Oct, 17 Dec 1935.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Campion, Sir William Robert (1870–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 29 October 2020.

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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