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Leading the Way: Sir John Monash

The Man


Sources for all text: John Monash: A Biography by Geoffrey Serle (Melbourne University Press, 1982) and Monash by Vernon R. Northwood with assistance from Dr. Gershon Bennett (State Electricity Commission of Victoria, 1950)


John Monash was born on 27 June 1865 at West Melbourne. He was the first child and only son of Louis and Bertha, recent migrants from Prussia, who subsequently had two daughters Mathilde and Louise. Louis was a merchant and storekeeper and the family lived for a period in Jerilderie, before returning to Melbourne to allow John to attend Scotch College, before going on to study at Melbourne University.
 

Photo - Hannah Victoria Monash nee Moss with daughter Bertha 1893

 
Photo - John Monash with daughter Bertha and father Louis 1894
Above: Hannah Victoria Monash née Moss, with daughter Bertha, 1893
 
Above: John Monash with daughter Bertha, and father Louis, 1894
Louis Monash died in December 1894. His wife Bertha Monash had died in 1885.

While at university he took an interest in debating, chess and the piano (occasionally performing in public). He was also interested in student politics and was co-founder of Melbourne University Union. In the company of friends he undertook several major walking tours in the Victorian bush and later took annual trips to Mount Buffalo and the Alps.

Among the group of friends with whom John Monash regularly visited Mt Buffalo, he was known affectionately as "Thunders Roar". An entry from one of the group's journals "The Buffalo Buster" (right) depicts Monash (centre of page) and other members of the group.

 
Photo - Mount Buffalo 1908
 
Image from The Buffalo Buster 1908
Above: Mt Buffalo, 1908
 
Above: An entry from "The Buffalo Buster", 1908

 
During the late 1880s he led a hectic social life based around the German Club, opera, theatre and balls and dances and had several close associations with women. He "impulsively" became engaged to Hannah Victoria Moss in October 1889 and married her in April 1891. Their only child Bertha was born in January 1893.
 
Photo - North Melbourne Artillery Ball 1901
 

Monash and Vic "maintained a heavy program of balls, concerts and theatre going", in the period 1897-1906.

 

 

Left: North Melbourne Artillery Ball, 18 July 1902

With growing success in his business and military careers in the early 1900s, he became a pillar of Melbourne society. He lectured and examined at the University of Melbourne, became chairman of the graduates association, president of the University Club and in 1912 was elected to the university council. During this time he was also prominent in the Boy Scout movement and in 1913 he became president of the Victorian Institute of Engineers.

Monash's triumphant return to Australia after the war was marred by the death of his wife on 27 February 1920. In the following years innumerable public demands were made on him. He became the natural spokesman for returned soldiers, from 1925 leading the annual Anzac Day march. From 1923 he was Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University, and from 1924-26 president of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science.

Monash was a member of the Naval and Military, the Wallaby and the Beefsteak clubs and in 1922 was president of Rotary. In 1927 he lent his name to the Australian Zionist Federation as national president. His constant companion from 1920 was Elizabeth Bentwitch.

 

Right: Lieut-General Sir John Monash GCMG, KCB, VD and Miss Lizette Bentwitch 1927

watercolour on ivory
87 x 106 mm.
signed by the artist, Agnes Paterson
exhibited Victorian Artists Society April 1927, April 1928 and April 1931

 
Miniature watercolour on ivory of Monash and Lizette Bentwitch

Sir John with grandson John Monash Bennett 1922
 
Photo - Berta Bennett, Aunt Ulrike, John Monash and grandsons david and John 1926
Above: Sir John with grandson John Monash Bennett at Iona in July 1922
 
Above: Bertha Bennett (left), and John Monash (right) with Aunt Ulrike on the occasion of her birthday, and grandsons David and John, 1926
 

Monash's haven was the family home Iona, where he lived with his daughter and delighted in his grandchildren. He took a keen interest in the garden and in 1923 after joining the Astronomical Society had a platform built there for his telescope.
 
Photo - Bertha Bennet and children David, Elizabeth and John 1927

Above: Bertha (Monash) Bennett and her children David, Elizabeth and John at Iona, early 1927.
Although he travelled to India early in 1931, to represent Australia at the opening of New Delhi, by August his health had deteriorated and he died of coronary vascular disease at Iona on 8 October 1931. His state funeral with crowds of about 300,000 was probably the largest in Australia to that time.

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