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Clarke, Sandra Elizabeth (1907–2010)

by Michael D. De B. Collins Persse

Sandra Clarke, whose parents' marriage united two families of Victorian pioneers, and whose own marriage united two that by then had become dynasties, died aged 103 at her home at Devon Park, near Dunkeld in western Victoria, on the day of the state election that made her cousin Ted Baillieu premier.

Her life had overlapped by two months that of her grandmother Emma, who in 1853, aged 15, had married James George Baillieu, aged 20, an English sailor of Belgian ancestry. That year he had jumped ship to escape the attentions of a drunken shipmaster and swum three kilometres across the rip to Queenscliff. There he and Emma, also newly arrived from England, raised 14 children.

While new premier Baillieu is a grandson of the 10th of those children, Sandra Clarke was a child of the ninth, Amy Adelaide, and Edward Shackell, who had three daughters and then a son. Her younger sister, Dame Adelaide Doughty, married an English barrister and was chairman of the national union of the Conservative Party.

Baillieu energy and international scope reached a height with their first-cousin Clive, a businessman, mining financier, and Australian and imperial patriot. In the late 1940s, it was said that the British Labour government's obvious solution to its problems with nationalisation was to ''nationalise Baillieu'' — a course precluded by the difficulty of finding chairmen to succeed him on his many boards. A friend of Winston Churchill, he was created a baron in 1953, the first Australian hereditary peer to have successors.

Clarke's paternal grandfather, James Shackell, who emigrated from England in 1852, was a successful auctioneer and mayor of Echuca before representing Rodney in the Victorian parliament. Edward Shackell founded Secretariat Pty Ltd, serving about 50 companies accommodated in Collins House, which was built in 1910 in Collins Street, Melbourne, by Lord Baillieu's father, William Lawrence Baillieu, for his own group.

Sandra Clarke grew up happily as part of a large clan. A bachelor uncle, Edward Lloyd Baillieu, a sharebroker, pastoralist, and racing identity known as ''Prince'', was a strong influence.

Born at a family house in Toorak, she went to a nearby primary school established for the cousinage by her father, who made sure that she was also educated in sound business practice. The family moved to Linlithgow Avenue, where they kept horses. She would ride with friends to Toorak village for shopping, and while a pupil at St Catherine's she and a cousin would load horses on to special hunt trains running to Cranbourne to ride with the Melbourne and Findon hounds. Uncle Prince, who was on the committee of the Victoria Racing Club, gave her a table in the committee room for entertaining friends.

She visited England and Ireland with a friend, hunting (side-saddle, despite the hedges and stone walls) and impressing all with her gallantry and elegance. Her hand was sought by many Englishmen and back home, where the captain of a visiting Test team, after dancing with her, took her into the garden and, in her own words, ''kissed me thoroughly''.

During a long courtship with Trevor Clarke (1903-83), she returned to England, ''to give myself some air''. When her suitor proved successful, he followed and they were married stylishly in London in 1935. He was a great-grandson of the pioneer pastoralist William John Turner (''Big'') Clarke and a great-nephew of Sir William, first baronet. Educated at Melbourne Grammar and Cambridge, he was the squire of Devon Park, a councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, and on the VRC committee. He gave his wife continuity with her former life — one of family, horses, racing, and social prominence — to which a pastoral property was now added. Both tall, they were a striking couple. Between 1938 and 1950, their children Carmen, James (Jim), Georgina (Dordie), and Sylvia were born.

During World War II, for some of which Trevor was away on military service, Sandra Clarke became a stalwart of the Red Cross and the Country Women's Association. Later, she was a district commissioner of the Pony Club. Naturally competitive, she gave strong, not unbiased, support to her descendants' endeavours in polo, rowing, and cricket.

She escaped the cancer that claimed her sisters and her first two children: Carmen (Lady Carnegie) died in 2008; Jim in 2009. Through them and Dordie (Bragg) and Sylvia (McLachlan) she became grandmother to 12 and great-grandmother (''Supergran'' or ''Very Old Gran'') to 15. Enabled by Jim and his wife, Susie, to live on in The Bluestone Hut at Devon Park (where she managed the stairs right up to the last week of her life), she was supported by a team of carers and a beloved blind dog, George. She kept a close interest in her family's doings and those of many friends. The Edwardian era of her childhood lived on in her candour, her joy in life, her unshockable wisdom.

Survived by 29 of her 31 descendants, she bore with stoic courage the intense sorrow of the deaths of her first two children, refusing to impose it on others while remaining constantly more sensitive to their needs than to her own.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 8 December 2010

Additional Resources

  • wedding, Argus (Melbourne), 14 June 1935, p 5

Citation details

Michael D. De B. Collins Persse, 'Clarke, Sandra Elizabeth (1907–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/clarke-sandra-elizabeth-14845/text26028, accessed 27 April 2017.

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