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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Davy, Thomas Arthur Lewis (1890–1933)

by David Black

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Thomas Arthur Lewis Davy (1890-1933), lawyer and politician, was born on 1 May 1890 at Auckland, New Zealand, son of Thomas George Davy, medical practitioner and cultivated linguist and musician, and his wife Emily, née Gates. After eight years in New Zealand the family returned to London in 1894, but migrated to Western Australia next year. The father practised medicine at Coolgardie, Fremantle and West Perth until his death in 1908. Davy was educated at Fremantle and at High School, Perth, and was Rhodes scholar for 1909; he studied jurisprudence at his father's old college, Exeter, at Oxford (B.A., 1913), and was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn, London, that year, and in Western Australia in 1914. He was a partner in the firm of Northmore, Hale & Davy (and later Leake) and became a King's Counsel in 1932.

Davy served with the Royal Field Artillery in France in 1915-16, being wounded in action, and then in India in 1917-19; he reached the rank of acting captain. On 21 December 1915, on leave in London, he married Penelope Ethel, daughter of H. W. Sholl, a Western Australian politician. On his return to Perth Davy served on the State executive of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia and was its honorary solicitor from 1923 until his death. From 1920 he sat on the High School's board of governors and was influential, as chairman in 1929, in having the name changed to Hale School.

In 1924 Davy won the West Perth seat in the Legislative Assembly, despite a dispute over how-to-vote cards with fellow Nationalist and sitting member Edith Cowan. The National Party, led by Sir James Mitchell, went into opposition, being known temporarily as the United Party after amalgamation with a breakaway Country Party group. In his first parliamentary session Davy led for the Opposition in debate on important industrial legislation and after the 1927 election was chosen deputy leader of the United Party. Influential in the periodic reorganizations of the party's branch structure before elections, he opposed electoral pacts with the Country Party which limited the National Party's capacity to expand in rural areas. Davy also supported his party's controversial policy of multiple endorsement for parliamentary elections.

In 1930 Davy became attorney-general and in October next year, after (Sir) Norbert Keenan's resignation, also received the education portfolio. In the Depression he worked closely with Mitchell on key legislation and at conferences in the eastern States. Although he went against the majority of his party in opposing secession, he must surely have soon become its leader, but he died suddenly of a heart attack on 18 February 1933, while playing cards with his wife and friends at the Savoy Hotel.

The death of such a talented and personable leader, admired for his sincerity and lack of ostentation, was a great blow to his colleagues. He was buried in the Anglican portion of Karrakatta cemetery, survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.

Select Bibliography

  • D. H. Rankin, The History and Development of the High School Perth, 1858-1925 (Perth, 1925)
  • Rhodes Scholarships: Records of Past Scholars Elected Between the Years 1903 and 1927 Inclusive (Oxford, 1931)
  • G. C. Bolton, A Fine Country to Starve In (Perth, 1972)
  • Western Mail (Perth), 6 June 1908, 23 Feb 1933
  • Listening Post, 24 Feb 1933
  • Australian Law Journal, 15 Mar 1933, p 424
  • West Australian, 17-21, 24 Mar 1924, 20 Feb 1933
  • D. W. Black, The National Party in Western Australia, 1917-1930: Its Origins and Development with an Introductory Survey of ‘Liberal’ Party Organisation, 1901-1916 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1974).

Citation details

David Black, 'Davy, Thomas Arthur Lewis (1890–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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