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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hamilton, Charles Greenlaw (1874–1967)

by Jenny Mills

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Charles Greenlaw Hamilton (1874-1967), educationist, critic and naturalist, was born on 16 January 1874 at Guntawang, near Gulgong, New South Wales, eldest of four children of Alexander Greenlaw Hamilton, a schoolteacher and naturalist from Ireland, and his native-born wife Emma, née Thacker. The family was steeped in the love and study of nature: Charles's brother Harold Wynne (1875-1933) was a founder and honorary secretary of the Gould League of Bird Lovers of New South Wales. Another brother Edgar Alexander built up the extensive collection of native orchids begun by his father.

In 1897 Charles joined the Education Department of Western Australia as an advisory teacher in art and nature study. The work entailed widespread travelling. Carrying a sketchbook, soft pencil and penknife to note the wildlife, he developed a special knowledge of the plants and animals of the south-west and goldfields. His drawing ability enabled him to captivate children in outback schools with blackboard depictions of nature, 'humorously interspersed with sketches of himself'.

Hamilton married Nina Helen Leslie on 26 September 1912 at St Matthew's Church of England, Boulder. After serving as headmaster at Como State School, in 1934 he took charge of East Claremont Practising School. Close to the influential R. G. Cameron, Hamilton tried out new education systems at the school while working with colleagues at Claremont Teachers' Training College, where he was also a well-liked lecturer. He 'strongly advocated a more enlightened and free method of teaching'.

After retiring in 1938 Hamilton taught several subjects at Hale School where he was also sports master during World War II. He finally left teaching in 1954. A tall man, in his later years slightly stooped with a thick mop of white hair, he had a wide range of friends, from painters, academics and sportsmen to goldfields engineers with whom he was keen to discuss precious metals. He exhibited paintings with the West Australian Society of Arts and the Perth Society of Artists and was founding secretary and life member of the West Australian Naturalists' Club. He was also associated with the Patch Theatre. A member of the West Australian Cricket Association, he was 'an accomplished all rounder, a graceful left hander and a wily slow bowler'. At 72 he achieved a hat-trick bowling against the Hale School XI. He was also a good shot, a billiards player and a member of Mount Lawley bowling club.

As 'C.G.', Hamilton was an esteemed art critic for the West Australian newspaper in 1946-64, and was a foundation and honorary life member of the Australian division of the International Association of Art Critics. He endeavoured to help young artists but was sometimes paternalistic in tone. While grounded in realism he was discerning in his admiration for such artists as Guy Grey-Smith and Howard Taylor. He recorded thoughts about art and life and comments (not always flattering) on local artists, in small Croxley notebooks. These were probably also used for the philosophical and educational articles that he wrote for the Royal Perth Hospital journal. In 1962 Hamilton was appointed M.B.E. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 29 August 1967 in Royal Perth Hospital. (The day before, he had played a good game of billiards.) Survived by his three sons, he was cremated with Anglican rites. Both the Western Australian Society of Arts and the Perth Society of Artists honoured him with a memorial exhibition after his death.

Select Bibliography

  • Naturalist News, Oct 1967, p 5
  • Western Australian Naturalist, 11, no 1, Oct 1968, p 22
  • West Australian, 30 Aug 1967, p 17, 6 Apr 1974, p 32
  • C. Hamilton biography file (Art Gallery of Western Australia).

Citation details

Jenny Mills, 'Hamilton, Charles Greenlaw (1874–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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