Percy Spender

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The Honourable
Sir Percy Spender
Percy Spender 1940.jpg
Spender in 1940
President of the
International Court of Justice
In office
6 February 1964 – 5 February 1967
Preceded by Bohdan Winiarski
Succeeded by José Bustamante y Rivero
Judge of the International Court of Justice
In office
6 February 1958 – 5 February 1967
Preceded by John Read
Succeeded by Charles Onyeama
Australian Ambassador to the United States
In office
31 May 1951 – 1 January 1958
Preceded by Norman Makin
Succeeded by Howard Beale
Minister for External Affairs
In office
19 December 1949 – 26 April 1951
Prime Minister Robert Menzies
Preceded by Bert Evatt
Succeeded by Richard Casey
Treasurer of Australia
In office
14 March 1940 – 27 October 1940
Prime Minister Robert Menzies
Preceded by Robert Menzies
Succeeded by Arthur Fadden
Member of the House of Representatives
In office
23 October 1937 – 28 April 1951
Preceded by Archdale Parkhill
Succeeded by Francis Bland
Constituency Warringah
Personal details
Born (1897-10-05)5 October 1897
Darlinghurst, New South Wales, Australia
Died 3 May 1985(1985-05-03) (aged 87)
Darling Point, New South Wales, Australia
Political party Independent (1937–1938)
UAP (1938–1944)
Independent (1944–1945)
Liberal (from 1945)
Spouse(s) Jean Henderson (m. 1925–1970)
Averil Trenerry (m. 1975–1976)
Eileen Esdaile (m. 1983)
Relations Dale Spender (niece)
Children 2 sons
Alma mater University of Sydney
Occupation Politician, diplomat, jurist

Sir Percy Claude Spender KCVO KBE QC (5 October 1897 – 3 May 1985), was an Australian politician, diplomat and judge. He served in the House of Representatives from 1937 to 1951, including as a cabinet minister under Robert Menzies and Arthur Fadden. He was later Ambassador to the United States (1951–1958) and a member of the International Court of Justice (1958–1967).[1]

Early life[edit]

Spender was born in Sydney and educated at Fort Street High School and later the University of Sydney. He joined the Commonwealth Public Service in 1915. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1923 and was made a King's Counsel in 1935.[1]


Spender entered politics at the 1937 election when he was elected to the House of Representatives as member for Warringah. He ran as an independent, defeating the sitting member, Sir Archdale Parkhill. Soon after his election, he joined the government party, the United Australia Party.

Spender held a number of ministries in Robert Menzies' wartime government. He was Minister without portfolio assisting the Treasurer from April–November 1939, Vice-President of the Executive Council from January–March 1940, then Treasurer until October 1940 and then Minister for the Army until the fall of Arthur Fadden's government in October 1941. He was also a member of the Economic Cabinet (1939–1940), War Cabinet (1939–1941) and the Advisory War Council (1940–1945).

After the Coalition lost power in 1941, Spender twice stood for UAP leader. He was eliminated on the first ballot in both the 1941 and 1943 votes, which were won by Billy Hughes and Robert Menzies respectively.

In February 1944, the UAP voted to withdraw its members from the Advisory War Council. Spender refused to resign from the council, and was expelled from the UAP as a result on 23 February 1944. The party reportedly voted 21 to 5 in favour of an expulsion motion moved by Robert Menzies – who had been largely responsible for the creation of the council as a nonpartisan body. John Curtin subsequently sent Spender a letter thanking him for staying on.[2] Billy Hughes was expelled in similar circumstances two months later.[3]

Spender sat as an independent after being expelled from the UAP. He was approached to join the Liberal Democratic Party, a small UAP breakaway, but declined.[4] In May 1945, Spender became a financial member of the Mosman branch of the Liberal Party of Australia.[5] However, he was not admitted to the parliamentary Liberal Party until 13 September 1945, when the Advisory War Council was abolished. Hughes was also re-admitted at that point.[6]

Upon Menzies' return to power in 1949, Spender was made Minister for External Affairs (19 December 1949 – 26 April 1951) and Minister for External Territories. Spender's greatest influence on Australian politics occurred during this period. He led Australian delegations to the British Commonwealth Conference in Colombo, Ceylon and to the Fifth Session of the United Nations General Assembly (of which he was the Vice-President).[1]

At the conference in Colombo, Spender was instrumental in the development of the Colombo Plan (which had originally been known as the Spender Plan). He also played a large part in the signing of the ANZUS Pact[7] and the Treaty of San Francisco (Japanese Peace Treaty; 1951).

Spender expressed more desire to secure alliances with 'great powers' than contribute to collective security, stating that international organisations like the UN may "contain those who are at work to disrupt the order we believe in".[8] In this sense Spender was more akin to the realist tradition of Australian foreign politics linked to former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.[9]

1954 TV interview

Later life[edit]

Spender in 1953

On leaving politics, Spender was appointed Australia's Ambassador to the United States (1951–58). He was the first Australian appointed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (1958–1964) and was the Court's President 1964–67. Spender died in May 1985, aged 87.[1]

Marriages and family[edit]

Spender married Jean Maud Henderson on 6 April 1925 at St Mary Magdalene Church of England, Coraki, New South Wales. She became a crime-fiction writer and they had two sons. One son, John Spender, was also a politician and diplomat. Jean Spender died in 1970 and on 4 October 1975 at St Mark's Church of England, Darling Point, he married Averil Watkins Trenerry, née McLeod. The marriage was short-lived and they divorced soon after. He married Eileen Esdaile, née Congreve, in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1983.[1] He was the last surviving member of the Menzies and Fadden Cabinets.


Percy Spender was knighted in 1952 as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 1957, he was further created a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. He was conferred the Grande Ufficiale Order of Merit by the Republic of Italy in 1976. He also received ten honorary doctorates. However, a personal rift between himself and Menzies prevented him from receiving the honour which he most desired, appointment to the Privy Council.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lowe, D. 2012, Spender, Sir Percy Claude (1897–1989) Australian Dictionary of Biography Retrieved 9 July 2013
  2. ^ "U.A.P. EXPELS MR. SPENDER". The Sydney Morning Herald. 24 February 1944. 
  3. ^ "U.A.P. EXPELS MR. HUGHES". The Sydney Morning Herald. 15 April 1944. 
  4. ^ "MR. SPENDER INVITED TO JOIN L.D.P." The Sydney Morning Herald. 31 August 1944. 
  5. ^ "MR. SPENDER AND THE LIBERAL PARTY". The Sydney Morning Herald. 18 May 1945. 
  6. ^ "Hughes and Spender Join Liberals". The Sydney Morning Herald. 14 September 1945. 
  7. ^ Penrose, Sandra (29 September – 1 October 2004). "Percy Spender and the origins of ANZUS: an Australian initiative" (PDF). University of Adelaide. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 September 2008. Retrieved 8 February 2008. 
  8. ^ Lowe, D. 2003, 'Percy Spender, Minister and Ambassador', in, Beaumont, J. Waters, C. Lowe, D. and Woddard, G. Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats: Australian Foreign Policy Making, 1941–1969, Melbourne University Press, p. 70
  9. ^ Gyngell, A. and Wesley, M. 2007, Making Australian Foreign Policy (Second Edition), Cambridge University press, Melbourne, p. 11

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
James Fairbairn
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Henry Gullett
Preceded by
Robert Menzies
Succeeded by
Arthur Fadden
Preceded by
Philip McBride
Minister for the Army
Succeeded by
Frank Forde
Preceded by
H.V. Evatt
Minister for External Affairs
Succeeded by
Richard Casey
Preceded by
Eddie Ward
Minister for External Territories
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Sir Archdale Parkhill
Member for Warringah
Succeeded by
Francis Bland
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Norman Makin
Australian Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Sir Howard Beale