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Hawkins, Herbert Middleton (1876–1939)

by Jill Roe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Herbert Middleton Hawkins (1876-1939), by unknown photographer

Herbert Middleton Hawkins (1876-1939), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 22568

Herbert Middleton Hawkins (1876-1939), real estate agent and politician, was born on 29 October 1876 at Brixton, London, son of Thomas Richardson Hawkins, accountant, and his wife Ann, née Butters. Educated in London, he migrated to Sydney about 1895 and by 1897 was city manager of the Vacuum Oil Co. Ltd. At Stanmore on 4 November 1899 he married Beatrice Buchanan (d.1935).

Soon prominent in Methodist circles, Hawkins was organizing secretary of the Sydney Central Methodist Mission (later honorary treasurer and a member of the executive until 1939), a lay representative at the Methodist Jubilee Conference in 1905 and a circuit steward from 1907. From about 1911 he was also manager of Spencer's Pictures Ltd and a director of the firm.

During and after World War I Hawkins set up as an agent and auctioneer (1916) and later joined H. W. Horning & Co. Ltd, auctioneers and real estate agents, one of Sydney's biggest firms, becoming joint managing director. He actively promoted the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, of which he was an early secretary and president in 1926-29. In the 1920s he moved for a federal organization, the Associated Real Estate Institutes and Agents Association of Australia, and was its president in 1928-39. He found that real estate gave ample space for his 'mental and physical and moral powers'.

Such capacity was extended by philanthropic labours: he was honorary treasurer of the non-denominational United Charities Fund, vice-president of the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance in 1918-25 and a founder and honorary secretary of the War Memorial Hospital, Waverley. When appointed in June 1932 to the Legislative Council and an honorary minister assisting the minister for labour and industry (assistant colonial secretary from 1933), he spoke authoritatively on food relief frauds. Although apparently a political unknown Hawkins had been a council-member of the National Party for most of the 1920s and represented the All for Australia League at the formation of the State branch of the United Australia Party, later joining its finance and convention committees.

An articulate parliamentarian, able to both represent and lead the government in the Upper House, Hawkins attained full ministerial responsibility in the second Stevens-Bruxner cabinet as minister for social services in 1935-38; from June to December 1936 he was also acting minister for education and from October 1938 minister for labour and industry. His portfolios encompassed well-established charitable concerns, hospitals, children, outdoor relief and, notably, housing reform. This involved him in responses to anti-slum campaigners, a fact-finding world tour in 1937 and support for housing improvement schemes.

At Woollahra on 21 July 1938 Hawkins married Gwendoline, née Jupp, widow of G. H. Bosch. On 16 June 1939 he fell to his death from the window of his ministerial office. His demise was inexplicable, and the coroner brought in a finding of accidental death. After a state funeral in St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, Hawkins was buried in the Methodist section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. He was survived by his second wife and by a son and two daughters of his first marriage. His estate was valued for probate at £20,652.

Select Bibliography

  • Theatre Magazine (Sydney), 2 Dec 1912
  • Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, Journal, 1 (Aug 1939), no 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Jan 1920, 17, 19 June 1939, 6 July 1939.

Citation details

Jill Roe, 'Hawkins, Herbert Middleton (1876–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/hawkins-herbert-middleton-6607/text11379, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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