John Saumarez Dumaresq, RN/RAN

This article by Peter Sinfield ( appeared in June 2002 issue of The Bosun's Call (the newsletter of the Naval Association of Australia, ACT Section) and is reproduced here by permission.

John Saumarez Dumaresq was born in Sydney on 26 October 1873, the grandson of one of three brothers who came to Australia with their brother-in-law, Governor Darling in 1825. All had prospered, and the future Admiral’s father was a wealthy Glen Innes pastoralist.

Brought up in England from the age of two, John entered HMS Britannia as a cadet in 1886 and later specialized in the then- new field of torpedoes. He also became interested in naval gunnery and, being an innovative man, in- vented a number of fire- control instruments which were used extensively by the RN during WW1. Perhaps the best- known of these was the Dumaresq ‘clock’, a mechanical calculator which "solved the triangle" relating enemy ship course, speed, bearing and own ship course and speed.

As a Captain Dumaresq was appointed in command of HMS Shannon in 1913, serving in her at Jutland and, for his part in this action, he was created CB.

In February 1917, Captain Dumaresq transferred on loan to the RAN Navy and was appointed to HMAS Sydney (thus becoming probably the first Australian- born officer to command a major Australian warship). The action against Zeppelin L. 43 three months later strongly reinforced his idea - first conceived at Jutland - of operating wheeled aircraft from light cruisers, and was delighted when a revolving platform made to his design was installed in Sydney in October 1917 (the new arrangements soon proved their worth: during a raid against enemy minesweepers in Heligoland Bight on 1 June 1918, Sydney’s aircraft chased off two German aeroplanes, shooting down one and fighting the other until his guns ran out of ammunition).

Dumaresq stayed in Sydney until he was promoted and appointed Commodore Commanding the Australian Fleet (again, the first person of Australian birth to take up this position) on 22 March 1919. He transferred his flag to HMAS Australia, which returned to Sydney later that year after more than four years outside the Australia Station. At Fremantle there was minor mutiny, with 12 men charged and imprisoned. Dumaresq considered the matter purely one of naval discipline, and when five of the mutineers were released as a result of political pressure, both he and the 1 st Naval Member submitted their resignations. These were later withdrawn.

On his arrival in Sydney, Commodore Dumaresq energetically set about restoring the efficiency of the Australian squadron which, during the war, had been deployed on all the ‘seven seas’. He encouraged good discipline and high levels of competence, and was a tireless advocate of the navy’s interests. He was in constant conflict with the Australian government over the stringent financial restrictions imposed on the Fleet and, in his final address aboard the flagship, strongly criticised the apathy and attitudes of Australians towards defence expenditure. Dumaresq was promoted to Rear-Admiral in June 1921, once again being the first Australian-born officer to hold that rank.

After three years with the RAN, Rear-Admiral Dumaresq reverted to the Royal Navy in April 1922. He took passage for England in the Tango Maru, but fell ill near the Phillipines and died of pneumonia in the U. S. Military Hospital at Manila on 22 July. Thus ended the life of an innovative and popular man whose influence on the-then fledgling RAN is today largely forgotten.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Encyclopedia, Naval Histori-cal Review 1972, Royal Australian Navy 1914- 1918, Who’s Who in the Commonwealth of Australia (1922).

Last Updated: 16 June, 2002.

 Return to WWI The Maritime War

 Return to WWI Archive main page.