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australian rowers profiles and history

Hugh M Conran

Ballarat City Rowing Club (VIC)

Hugh Marcell Conran was born on the 8th of July,1889 while at sea in the Irish Sea on board the ship Gallia. His parents were Lewis Charles Conran* and Catherine MacLeod, Lewis’s second wife. Lewis was 67 when he married again and had five grown up children from his first marriage. Hugh was the eldest of the three children of this marriage, with his brother Noel born in 1891 and sister Enid in 1893.

They were living at Barrabool House, Geelong. Lewis died in January 1893 with Hugh not quite three years old. His father left an estate of some 6642 pounds. The little family later moved to Ballarat in about 1907 and spent the next 10 years there, as Catherine Sarah Conran appears on the Ballarat electoral roll for those years. Hugh passed his Matriculation exams in Melbourne in January 1908 and started at Ballarat School of Mines to train as an assayer. Hugh joined the Ballarat City Rowing Club at the same time as did Les Coulter and the pair rowed together, played football together, were involved in athletics and did their mining engineering course together. Hugh’s brother Noel attended Hailebury College for a short time and Hugh is also listed on the Hailebury honour board however there is no actual record of him attending the school.

Hugh was an active and successful member of Ballarat City Rowing Club joining in about 1908. In 1909 he rowed in the maiden eight at Ballarat Regatta and was stroke of the Maiden eight at Colac Regatta in December. He and his mate Les Coulter raced in the maiden pairs at the 1909 VRA Regatta in December. In 1910 he stroked the Maiden and Junior eight at Ballarat and Barwon Regattas. In 1911 he was Vice-Captain of the club and competed in the Maiden and Junior sculls at Ballarat Regatta that year finishing a creditable third in each race. Also in January 1911 he raced in the A.I.R. regatta on Lake Wendouree where boat races took place between crews from the 7th A.I. Regiment. He stroked the eight from H Company which also had Les Coulter rowing in five seat. They came second by a canvas to C Company.

Hugh was also an avid photographer and a collection of his rural scenes on glass slides from around 1910 feature some lovely pictures of Lake Wendouree. In 1913 he was mentioned as being a prize winner in the Ballarat Camera Club’s competition. 

He became engaged to Edith Cooke in January 1915 and was living with his mother Catherine in Drummond Street, when he enlisted early in 1915. He was already a Captain in the 23rd Battalion and he applied for and received a commission as Lieutenant on the 28th of April 1915. He embarked on the 10th of May with the 23rd Battalion from Melbourne aboard HMAT Euripides along with William Brazenor and Eric Brind, two other Ballarat “boys”. On 28 July he was admitted to hospital in Egypt with bronchitis. He re-joined the 23rd Battalion on the 25th of October 1915 on Gallipoli, surviving two months in the trenches and then being sent to hospital again on the 22nd of December 1915 with influenza. He rejoined the battalion in Egypt on 21st of January 1916 returning to France on the 19th of March 1916.

He was wounded in action at Pozieres, France on 29 July 1916 and evacuated to England for medical treatment before being returned to Australia to have his appointment terminated on medical grounds on 16 May 1917. He married fiancé Edith Cooke in a quiet ceremony at St.Andrew’s Kirk, Ballarat on the 10th of January 1917.

He moved to Mildura in around 1920 where he took up a Soldier’s Settler block in Redcliffs and became an orchardist. He was very active in the community playing golf and being involved in community affairs.

In World War 2 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Commanding Officer of the 39th Battalion.

He died in Blackburn in 1957.

*Lewis Charles Conran was a military man before he took up farming in Geelong. He was born in 1821 and became a Lieutenant Colonel who served in the British 56th and 11th Regiments in Canada and Jamaica. In 1840 as a very young man he went to Norfolk Island in charge of convicts. He married Catherine Spencer in 1850 and they came to Victoria in 1851. He was appointed Sargeant-at-Arms to the Legislative Assembly and aide-de-camp to Governor Latrobe. He retired to farming in Geelong in 1874, serving as a councillor on South Barwon and Barrabool Shire councils for 10 years. His wife died in 1884 and was buried at Highton Cemetery. When he died in 1892, he was buried there with his first wife.

Studio portrait of three officer of the 23rd Battalion who all embarked together from Melbourne on 10 May 1915 aboard HMAT Euripides. L-R: Hugh Marcell Conran, William Brazenor, Eric Brind.

Kate Elliott
December 2021

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