Henry Gullett

Sir Henry Somer Gullett KCMG (26 March 1878 – 13 August 1940) was an Australian politician who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1925 until his death in the 1940 Canberra air disaster. He was a minister in the governments of Stanley Bruce, Joseph Lyons, Earle Page, and Robert Menzies, including as Minister for External Affairs under Menzies.

Sir Henry Gullett

Minister in charge of Scientific and Industrial Research
In office
14 March 1940  13 August 1940
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded byNew title
Succeeded byHerbert Collett
Minister for Information
In office
12 September 1939  14 March 1940
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded byNew title
Succeeded byRobert Menzies
Minister for External Affairs
In office
26 April 1939  14 March 1940
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded byBilly Hughes
Succeeded byJohn McEwen
Minister for Trade and Customs
In office
6 January 1932  14 January 1933
Prime MinisterJoseph Lyons
Preceded byFrank Forde
Succeeded byThomas White
In office
28 November 1928  22 October 1929
Prime MinisterStanley Bruce
Preceded byStanley Bruce
Succeeded byJames Fenton
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Henty
In office
14 November 1925  13 August 1940
Preceded byFrederick Francis
Succeeded byArthur Coles
Personal details
Henry Somer Gullett

(1878-03-26)26 March 1878
Toolamba West, Victoria, Australia
Died13 August 1940(1940-08-13) (aged 62)
Canberra, Australia
Political partyNationalist (to 1931)
UAP (from 1931)
Penny Frater (m. 1912)
RelationsJo Gullett (son)
Penne Hackforth-Jones (granddaughter)
Barbara Baynton (mother-in-law)
Henry Gullett (uncle)
Lucy Gullett (cousin)

Early life

Gullett was born on 26 March 1878 in Toolamba West, Victoria. He was the son of Rose Mary (née Somer) and Charles William Gullett; his father was born in London and his mother in Victoria. Gullett was educated at state schools, but left school at the age of twelve following his father's death in order to assist his mother with farmwork. He was encouraged to pursue a career in journalism by his uncle Henry Gullett, at the time an associate editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He began his career by writing on agricultural matters for the Geelong Advertiser. In 1900, Gullett moved to Sydney to join his uncle at the Herald. He moved to England in 1908 and became a London correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, as well as writing freelance for British publications. While in England, Gullett developed an interest in migration policy. In 1914, he published The Opportunity in Australia, "an illustrated, practical handbook on Australian rural life" with an autobiographical first chapter; it was designed to encourage prospective migrants to Australia.[1]

World War I and aftermath

In 1915, Gullett became an official Australian correspondent on the Western Front. In July 1916, he joined the first Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as a gunner. From early 1917 he worked with Charles Bean in collecting war records and later with the AIF as a war correspondent in Palestine. In 1919, he was briefly director of the Australian War Museum. He started writing volume VII of The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, covering the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, which he completed in 1922. In 1920, Billy Hughes appointed him head of the Australian Immigration Bureau, but he resigned in February 1922 over disagreements in relation to immigration policy and returned to journalism.[1]

Political career

Gullett failed to win a seat at the 1922 election, but he won the seat of Henty in Victoria for the Nationalist Party in 1925 election and held it for the rest of his life. He was Minister for Trade and Customs from November 1928 in the third Bruce Ministry until its fall in October 1929.

Gullett joined the new United Australia Party in 1931, and was re-appointed Minister for Trade and Customs when the Lyons Government took office in January 1932. He lobbied Lyons against including the Country Party in the ministry, predicting "they will prove filthy foes and will stab you all the way from the corner".[2] Later in 1932, Gullett and Stanley Bruce represented Australia at the British Empire Economic Conference in Ottawa, which attempted to establish Imperial Preference, a system of tariff concession within the British Empire. He suffered from poor health on his return and resigned from the ministry in January 1933.[3] In the same month he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George for his work at the Ottawa Conference.[1]

In October 1934, Gullett was re-appointed to the ministry as a minister without portfolio with responsibility for trade treaties.[1] In early 1935, he presented a draft trade treaty with Japan to cabinet.[4] He travelled to England with his wife later that year to attend the Silver Jubilee of King George V, and to discuss trade with representatives of Britain and the other Dominions.[5] In 1936, Gullett continued his work on the proposed trade deal with Japan, which was tentatively titled the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation. However, negotiations broke down and a trade war commenced, with Australia increasing duties on Japanese clothing and artworks and Japan doing likewise on Australian agricultural products.[6] Jay Pierrepont Moffat, the U.S. Consul in Sydney, observed in his diaries that Gullett "looked ill and tired" and was "constantly leaving his desk and taking some medicine at a cupboard in the corner". His health forced a second retirement from the ministry in March 1937. However, Moffat believed that his resignation was actually due to a disagreement on trade policy.[7]

In April 1939, Gullett became Minister for External Affairs in the first Menzies Ministry and Minister for Information from September 1939. However, when Robert Menzies formed a coalition with the Country Party in March 1940, he was moved to Vice-President of the Executive Council, and Minister in charge of Scientific and Industrial Research. He was killed in the Canberra air disaster in August 1940.[1]

Personal life

On 2 October 1912, Gullett married Elizabeth Penelope "Penny" Frater, the daughter of the Australian writer Barbara Baynton. The couple had two children together.[1] Their son Jo Gullett also entered politics, serving as the member for Henty from 1946 to 1955. Their daughter, Susan, was the mother of the actress Penne Hackforth-Jones.[8]


  1. Hill, A. J. (1983). "Gullett, Sir Henry Somer (1878–1940)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 20 October 2007.
  2. Henderson, Anne (2011). Joseph Lyons: The People's Prime Minister. NewSouth. p. 289.
  3. Henderson 2011, p. 322.
  4. Henderson 2011, p. 362.
  5. Henderson 2011, p. 363.
  6. Henderson 2011, pp. 373–374.
  7. Henderson 2011, p. 374.
  8. "Social news and gossip". The Sunday Herald. Sydney. 21 August 1949. p. 9. Retrieved 22 May 2011 via National Library of Australia.
  • Hazlehurst, Cameron (2013). "Patriot: Harry Gullett" (PDF). Ten Journeys to Cameron's Farm: An Australian Tragedy. ANU Press.
Political offices
Preceded by
Stanley Bruce
Minister for Trade and Customs
Succeeded by
James Fenton
Preceded by
Frank Forde
Minister for Trade and Customs
Succeeded by
Thomas White
Preceded by
Billy Hughes
Minister for External Affairs
Succeeded by
John McEwen
New title Minister for Information
Succeeded by
Robert Menzies
Preceded by
Percy Spender
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Herbert Collett
New title Minister in charge of Scientific
and Industrial Research

Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Frederick Francis
Member for Henty
Succeeded by
Arthur Coles
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