James Plimsoll

Sir James Plimsoll, AC, CBE (25 April 1917 – 8 May 1987) was an Australian diplomat and the 22nd Governor of Tasmania, serving from 1982 to 1987.

Sir James Plimsoll

22nd Governor of Tasmania
In office
1 October 1982  8 May 1987
MonarchElizabeth II
PremierDoug Lowe (1981)
Harry Holgate (1981–82)
Robin Gray (1982–87)
Preceded bySir Stanley Burbury
Succeeded bySir Phillip Bennett
Secretary of the Department of External Affairs
In office
5 April 1965  April 1970
Preceded bySir Arthur Tange
Succeeded bySir John Waller
Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
In office
Preceded bySir Edward Ronald Walker
Succeeded bySir David Hay
Personal details
Born(1917-04-25)25 April 1917
Sydney, New South Wales
Died8 May 1987(1987-05-08) (aged 70)
Hobart, Tasmania
Alma materUniversity of Sydney
Military service
Branch/serviceSecond Australian Imperial Force
Years of service1942–1947
Battles/warsSecond World War

Life and career

Plimsoll was born in Sydney, New South Wales, and educated at Sydney Boys High School from 1929 to 1933.[1] He graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Economics in 1938 and a Bachelor of Arts in 1941. He was then appointed to the Bank of New South Wales as an economist.[2]

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Plimsoll enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force in 1942. During the war he was attached to the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. In 1945 he was a member of the Australian delegation to the Far Eastern Commission, established to oversee the Allied Council for Japan, which was responsible for the occupation of Japan. At the end of the war, he was on the staff of the Australian School of Pacific Administration, then with the rank of major.[3] He was appointed a First Secretary of the Department of External Affairs in 1948.


Plimsoll was appointed the Australian representative on the United Nations Commission for Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK) in 1950, during the Korean War. When UNCURK was established in October 1950 the war was expected to conclude quickly. However, by the time of its first meeting in Seoul in November, China had intervened and unification and rehabilitation was no longer possible. While other UNCURK delegates wanted to leave Korea, Plimsoll persuaded them that it was important that a high-level civilian presence should remain in Korea. UNCURK then moved to the southern city of Busan, along with the Government of the Republic of Korea and played a valuable role in communicating between the Korean Government, the UN military Command and the United Nations in New York. It also observed Korean elections.

Plimsoll had a considerable influence on President Syngman Rhee, to whom he conveyed the views of the United Nations and the troop-contributing nations. He also expressed the Western nations' concerns about Rhee's undemocratic behaviour and abuse of human rights.[4]


In 1953, Plimsoll returned to Department of External Affairs.[5] He was appointed as Australia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1959 and he became Australia's High Commissioner to India and Ambassador to Nepal in 1962. In 1965, he became head of the Department of External Affairs.

In 1970, Plimsoll was appointed as Ambassador to the United States of America, a job normally reserved in Australia for senior ex-politicians. In 1974, he became Ambassador to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He was appointed as Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Economic Community in 1977 and in 1980 became Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. His final diplomatic post was as Ambassador to Japan in 1981 and 1982.

Plimsoll was described by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, in 2006 as Australia's "greatest Ambassador".[6]

Governor of Tasmania

Plimsoll became Governor of Tasmania in 1982. He was only the second bachelor to serve in the office, and he took on all the patronages normally held by the governor's spouse. He was popular in the state and his appointment was extended at the end of five years. Plimsoll's sudden death in office in May 1987 was met with widespread mourning. He was accorded a State Funeral at St David's Cathedral in Hobart, attended by the Governor-General of Australia and four other state governors. His remains were transported to Sydney for interment.

Awards and honours


  1. ORDER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE (PDF), Sydney High School Old Boys Union
  2. Hearder, Jeremy, "Plimsoll, Sir James (1917–1987)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University, archived from the original on 28 September 2013
  3. World War II Nominal Roll
  4. "James Plimsoll and UNCURK". Out in the Cold – Australia's involvement in the Korean War. Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 9 September 2006. Retrieved 24 December 2006.
  5. CP 452: Sir James PLIMSOLL AC, CBE, KStJ, National Archives of Australia, retrieved 12 September 2014
  6. Downer, Alexander (11 May 2006). "Speech: Australia and Europe: Sharing Global responsibilities". Canberra: Australian Government. Archived from the original on 12 February 2014.
  7. It's an Honour – Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  8. It's an Honour – Knight Bachelor
  9. It's an Honour – Companion of the Order of Australia
  10. Plimsoll Drive, ACT Government Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate, archived from the original on 27 February 2014

Further reading

  • Hearder, Jeremy (2015), Jim Plim: Ambassador Extraordinary: A Biography of Sir James Plimsoll, Connor Court Publishing, ISBN 9781925138498
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Edward Ronald Walker
Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Succeeded by
David Hay
Preceded by
Bill Pritchett
as Acting High Commissioner
Australian High Commissioner to India
Succeeded by
Arthur Tange
Preceded by
Sir Keith Waller
Australian Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Patrick Shaw
Preceded by
Lawrence John Lawrey
Australian Ambassador to the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Murray Bourchier
Preceded by
James Cumes
Australian Ambassador to Belgium
Succeeded by
Roy Fernandez
Preceded by
Sir Gordon Freeth
Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Sir Victor Garland
Preceded by
John Menadue
Australian Ambassador to Japan
Succeeded by
Neil Currie
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Stanley Burbury
Governor of Tasmania
Succeeded by
Sir Phillip Bennett
Preceded by
Arthur Tange
Secretary of the Department of External Affairs
Succeeded by
Keith Waller
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