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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kevin, John Charles George (1909–1968)

by Joan Beaumont

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

John Charles George Kevin (1909-1968), diplomat, was born on 9 October 1909 at Forbes, New South Wales, eldest of three sons of native-born parents Edward Kevin, chemist, and his wife Edith Emily May, née Hutchinson. His grandfather was 'Mr Kevin' in a version (1900) of Henry Lawson's poem, 'The Old Bark School'. Educated at St Stanislaus' College, Bathurst, St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, and St John's College, University of Sydney (LL.B., 1932), Charles was admitted to the Bar on 25 May 1932. In 1935 he joined the staff of the Australian High Commission in London. He edited Some Australians Take Stock (London, 1939) which included his essay on foreign policy. On 1 July 1939 at the Church of Our Lady of Victories, Kensington, he married Hermine Schick with Catholic rites; they were to have a son before being divorced.

In 1940 Kevin returned to Australia. While working with the Department of the Army, Melbourne, he helped to establish (1941) the Commonwealth Security Service. On 23 February 1942 he was appointed sub lieutenant, Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was promoted lieutenant and went to sea in H.M.A.S. Horsham before returning to the security service in 1943. A report on the C.S.S. by the British intelligence officer Captain A. H. Hillgarth, Royal Navy, described Kevin as 'the brains of the concern'.

Entering the Department of External Affairs in June 1945, Kevin was initially based in Canberra. He served as official secretary in New Delhi (1947-50), then was called to Canberra where he took charge of the administrative and general division. Alan Watt described this position as a thankless one, in which the occupant never achieved 'fame or glory; indeed, he is lucky if he keeps any friends amongst his colleagues'. It was a tribute to Kevin's fairness, urbanity and accessibility—to those who shared his daily custom of a quiet drink in the back bar of the Hotel Canberra—that he was less harmed by his tenure of this post than most who held it.

Apart from a further term in Canberra in 1955-59, Kevin spent the rest of his career abroad: he was Australian minister to Indonesia (1953-55), high commissioner to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) (1959-61), high commissioner to Pakistan (1961-62) and ambassador to South Africa (from September 1962). With his bearing, presence, elegance and imperturbability, he was very much a diplomat in the British Foreign Office tradition. His legal background and personal skills were put to good use in the negotiation of the Antarctic Treaty (1959) and the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations (1961). He was appointed C.B.E. in 1964.

On 6 May 1963 Kevin married Mary Therese Wilson, an Englishwoman he had met in Ceylon, two of whose daughters (Tammy and Naomi) he adopted. He died of cancer on 13 February 1968 in Pretoria, South Africa, and was buried in Zandfontein cemetery. His wife and daughters survived him, as did Anthony, the son of his first marriage, who also pursued a diplomatic career.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Watt, Australian Diplomat (Syd, 1972)
  • F. Cain, The Origins of Political Surveillance in Australia (Syd, 1983)
  • Department of External Affairs, Current Notes on International Affairs, 39, no 2, Feb 1968
  • A. Hillgarth Report (PREM 3 159/10, National Archives of the United Kingdom).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Joan Beaumont, 'Kevin, John Charles George (1909–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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