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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hickson, Robert Newburgh (1884–1963)

by L. A. Gilbert

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

Robert Newburgh Hickson (1884-1963), architect, was born on 2 May 1884 at Newcastle, New South Wales, fifth son and seventh child of Irish parents Robert Rowan Pendon Hickson, civil engineer, and his wife Sophia, née Haire. Educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) in 1897-1902, he was senior prefect and captain of the cricket and Rugby teams in 1901. He worked for Dalgety & Co. Ltd but was soon articled to Joseland & Vernon, architects. In 1903-07 he played cricket for New South Wales, mainly as an opening batsman when Victor Trumper was unavailable.

Going to Armidale in 1907, Hickson established a successful practice as a competent designer of domestic and public buildings. He became regional architect for the Rural Bank of New South Wales and for the Anglican diocese of Armidale, and was responsible for extensions to The Armidale School and New England Girls' School.

A popular captain of the New England XI for some years, Hickson also played Rugby Union, baseball, golf and bowls. Renowned for good works and civic service, he was a member of the Armidale and New England Hospital board for fifty years and was associated with St Peter's Cathedral council, the Armidale Diocesan Synod, Boy Scouts' Association and Technical College, the Armidale District Handicapped Children's Centre, the New England National Park trust, and the literary, musical and operatic societies. He was a director of all thirteen co-operative building societies represented in the city and of the Armidale Newspaper Co. Ltd, and was a trustee of the showground and racecourse. This large and affable, if sometimes temperamental, man was a familiar sight in his small car.

In the 1920s Hickson was involved with (Sir) Michael Bruxner and David Drummond in the foundation of the Country Party and remained interested in the party, often as campaign director, and in the New England New State Movement. He was an alderman on Armidale Municipal Council in 1925-28.

On 31 December 1912 at St Peter's Cathedral, Hickson had married Ella Violet Bell (1879-1955). She was born on 29 January 1879 at Young, daughter of Sydney Bell, bank manager, and his wife Esther, née Miller. She had trained as a nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and was matron of Armidale and New England Hospital in 1908-12.

Involved in the foundation of the local branch of the Red Cross Society in 1914, Ella Hickson commanded the Voluntary Aid Detachment associated with the 33rd Battalion, which soon camped at the show-ground. She ably supported the Country Women's Association of New South Wales, was treasurer of the Armidale Ladies' Relief Society and was a founder of the women's auxiliary of the local hospital. With her husband she worked to establish Homes for the Aged and two church hostels for children attending Armidale High School. Crisp and efficient, Mrs Hickson had a 'gentle, kindly personality'. She was appointed M.B.E. in 1941. She died, childless, on 29 October 1955.

Hickson died at his home at Armidale on 21 June 1963 and, like his wife, was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at £22,713.

Select Bibliography

  • Armidale Express, 31 Oct, 2, 4 Nov 1955, 21, 24 June 1963
  • Northern Daily Leader, 22 June 1963
  • private information.

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Hickson, Robert Newburgh (1884–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 9

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