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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ryan, Victor Herbert (1874–1956)

by Kathryn Gargett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Victor Herbert Ryan (1874-1956), by Australian National Travel Association

Victor Herbert Ryan (1874-1956), by Australian National Travel Association

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11188

Victor Herbert Ryan (1874-1956), public servant, was born on 10 January 1874 at Paratoo, near Peterborough, South Australia, son of Denis Landers Ryan, an Irish-born boundary rider, and his wife Emma, née Davey. Educated at state schools at Burra and Terowie, Victor worked in a shop at Terowie from the age of 14 before joining the South Australian Railways in 1890 as a junior porter. At the Methodist Church, Terowie, on 17 April 1901 he married Nina Annie Hewett (d.1945). The young couple moved to Adelaide, where he was employed as a ticket clerk at Victoria Square. He became an active member of the St John's Young Men's Literary Society, proved a skilled debater, and was elected to the 'parliament' of the South Australian Literary Societies' Union.

In 1908 Ryan obtained the post of agent at the new Tourist Bureau. Three years later he was appointed director of the combined Intelligence and Tourist Bureau. He provided the agent-general in London with promotional material, such as South Australia (1911-13 and 1922), a handbook of information for settlers and tourists and also planned itineraries for dignitaries who visited South Australia. In 1914 he and (Sir) David Gordon edited the Handbook of South Australia for the Adelaide meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Under the direction of the State War Council, the bureau was responsible (from 1915) for a wide range of activities, including patriotic appeals, recruitment, and the provision of training and employment for returned servicemen. As secretary of the council in 1916, Ryan dispatched a train loaded with soldiers, a brass band and the premier, Crawford Vaughan, to tour the State, using railway stations as recruiting depots. He oversaw Adelaide's peace celebrations in 1919, which culminated in a military pageant, sporting events, church services and fireworks. In the following year he served on the committee that organized the visit of the Prince of Wales and was appointed O.B.E.

Immigration had been added to Ryan's responsibilities in 1917. He supervised a scheme, launched in 1922 by Sir Henry Barwell, through which youths aged between 15 and 18 were brought from Britain and indentured to South Australian farmers. Responsible for their reception, employment and general welfare, he regularly corresponded with hundreds of 'Barwell Boys' and their parents, and was known as 'Daddy Ryan'. In 1923 he was appointed executive-officer of the Commonwealth-State committee which planned Australia's contribution to the British Empire Exhibition, held (1924-25) at Wembley, London. The Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia protested on the ground that Ryan was not a former serviceman, but he retained the position and toured the country collecting exhibits for the Australian pavilion.

In 1936 Ryan helped to organize South Australia's centenary celebrations and commissioned Frank Hurley to make a film about the State. A Freemason and a Rotarian, he often officiated at dinners as a master of ceremonies. In 1939 he retired. He died on 24 June 1956 at Unley Park and was buried in Cheltenham cemetery; three of his four daughters and one of his two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Boy-Migrant Scheme and Nomination Schemes of Immigration, Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1924
  • Australian Library Journal, July 1962, p 145
  • Mail (Adelaide), 1 Feb 1913
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 25 June 1956
  • Colonial Secretary's letters, GRG 24/6/1923/378 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Kathryn Gargett, 'Ryan, Victor Herbert (1874–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Victor Herbert Ryan (1874-1956), by Australian National Travel Association

Victor Herbert Ryan (1874-1956), by Australian National Travel Association

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11188