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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Alice Hazel King (1908–1997)

by K. J. Cable

The death of Hazel King has taken from the Society one of its most distinguished and devoted members. Nor is the Royal the only one to feel a sense of loss. Sydney University, the Zonta movement and the Australian Institute of International Affairs are but a few which are the poorer for her passing. To all, she gave years of faithful service.

Such institutions occupied only the latter half of Hazel's long life. When she became a university undergraduate in 1949, she was already forty years of age. From that time, she belonged to the world of learning. Beforehand, hers had been a world of family. In later years, Hazel said little about her relatives. But she did write about them. She contributed perceptive articles to the Australian Dictionary of Biography on her paternal grandfather, the Reverend George, her father, Sir Kelso, her half-sister, Olive (whose letters she edited) and her mother's relations, Walter and Eliza Hall. Not many people could claim such an array of ancestral talent. Hazel recorded their lives with pride and affection. But, by then, she was already making her own contribution. She told of her heritage; she did not rely on it.

Alice Hazel Kelso King was born at 'Craignish', Macquarie Street, on 18 October 1908, the elder child and only daughter of (Sir) George Eccles Kelso King and his second wife, Alicia Martha, nee Kirk. King's first wife had died in 1900, survived by two daughters. His father, George, a Church of Ireland clergyman, had come to Western Australia in 1841 and to Sydney in 1847. As minister of St Andrew's temporary cathedral, he quarrelled mightily with Bishop Barker. George King was a champion of the Aborigines and a founder of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute. Kelso, his youngest child (born in 1853) inherited his father's energy and philanthropy without his impulsiveness and lack of discretion. Brought up to high thinking and plain living, Kelso was a jackeroo and country bank clerk (where he was once chased by bushrangers), but in 1877 he found his metier as a businessman with the new Mercantile Mutual Insurance Company. At first its only employee, he built it into a major organisation, displaying a capacity for commerce with was remarkable. A chance meeting, on a Cobb and Co. coach, with Walter Hall, the Mount Morgan mining magnate, opened up fresh vistas for King. He was soon involved in Hall's industrial empire and was eventually to become a trustee of the monumental Walter and Eliza Hall Foundation. It was a cousin of Eliza Hall who became King's second wife and Hazel's mother.

Sir Kelso King (he was knighted in 1929) believed that from those to whom much had been given, much was required. He gave large sums of money to good causes but he also gave what he had little of – his time and attention. King was a leader in an astonishing number of activities: the Church of England, Freemasonry, the Royal Empire Society, the Boy Scouts, the Navy League, the Royal Life Saving Society, the St John Ambulance Association, the Pioneers' Club, a number of independent schools and many other organisations. In these, his wife was no less concerned. Such was Hazel King's inheritance.

In 1917, the family–including Nicholas, born in 1915–moved from Macquarie Street to a Woollahra mansion, 'Quambi'. Here, business and charitable interests dictated that there would be a great deal of entertaining. Hazel was at first taught at home by governesses. She then spent several years at nearby Ascham, of which she was to become a devoted old girl and councillor. But she did not stay until the senior year or qualify for matriculation. She was needed by her parents to assist in their busy and important lives. It was not that Hazel had no life of her own. She studied music and gave several concerts as a singer. She took an active part in some of her parents' concerns. With them, she travelled quite a lot. But, as was the case with many young women of her class in that period, hers was not an independent existence.

In 1932, Sir Kelso, now in his eightieth year, moved from Woollahra to a smaller house, 'Kilbronae', at Point Piper. For Hazel, this opened up a friendlier, more sociable scene in the homes of professional families. Then came the war and, in 1943, the death of her father. For the first time, Hazel found herself in employment. She learned shorthand and typing at Miss Hales' College and worked for medical practitioners in Macquarie Street–at one stage, in the present History House. At the end of the war, Hazel and her mother moved back from Point Piper to Woollahra, to a house in Rosemont Avenue close to 'Quambi'.

Peace brought opportunity. Ex-service personnel, aided by concessional admission rules and Commonwealth grants, were flooding into Sydney University. It was an incentive for Hazel to follow. Save for her elderly mother, her old ties had gone and she now had the example of mature-age students, without a formal Leaving Certificate, taking on tertiary education. She began to take qualifying courses by private study and, in 1949, entered the Faculty of Arts of the University of Sydney. The second stage of her life had begun. It was to end only with her death, almost fifty years on.

Sydney, with its associated college at Armidale, was still the sole university in New South Wales. Only in 1949 was it to be joined by the University of Technology, carved out of the Technical College and with a restricted range of faculties. By 1949, Sydney had survived the initial onrush of post-war students, but conditions were still far from favourable. The staff was small, accommodation was sparse and facilities were poor. To find a recommended book in Fisher Library was still something of a treasure hunt. There were no tutorials, save for those in the Honours stream, and connections between staff and students were necessarily thin. Hazel overcame these difficulties by sheer pertinacity and hard work. She was interested in Economics and Italian at first, but History soon came to be her principal field. She graduated in 1953 with a good second class honours degree.

Then came the time of decision. Hazel had no immediate need to earn a living and she wished to proceed further with History. This meant working for a Master's degree–there were no Ph.Ds in the Faculty of Arts at that time–and doing so without the benefit of graduate scholarships. Most candidates were thus part-time. But Hazel was offered the post of research assistant to Miss (later Professor) Marjorie Jacobs, working on the reorganisation of the State Archives. These invaluable collections had long been chaotic–and a determined effort was being made by Professor John Ward, Miss Jacobs and the Dixson librarian, G. D. Richardson, to give them order and system. Hazel found herself immersed in the primary sources of the history of New South Wales, an experience which was to prove invaluable. And it also brought her into contact with the scholars in Sydney's History Department who were experts on early Australian and British colonial developments. Hazel worked on her Master's thesis–which considered police administration in early New South Wales–at the same time, using the Archives' resources. But it was the broader connection with the Sydney History Department which was important.

Hazel gained her M.A. and published some of her results in the Royal Australian Historical Society's Journal in 1956–she had joined the Society in 1954. Her mother's death soon after made it easier for her to decide on the next step–to work overseas. In 1957, she disposed of the Woollahra house, bought another at Double Bay and set out for the University of Oxford. Hazel seems to have decided that the early history of New South Wales and its setting in British colonial history would be her main concern. In the course of her archival work she had come across Governor Sir Richard Bourke. She resolved to study his career in South Africa and Australia in the context of Britain's imperial policy.

It is never easy to be a post-graduate student at an overseas university. Research is a lonely business and the scholar is, to an extent, cut off from the interplay of undergraduate life. But Hazel settled in well. In Vincent Harlow and Fred Madden she found learned and sympathetic advisers. Much of her work was in London's Public Record Office (these were the days before microform) where she met fellow researchers. She made useful friendships in various institutes at the University of London. Hazel worked happily and with rapidity. Her Oxford D.Phil. came at the first submission (a by no means common occurrence) and gained her a lectureship at Sydney University in 1960. It was a long way from 1949.

Any chronological treatment of Hazel's life from 1960, her fifty-second year, would be out of place. Scholarship and service to the community gave her life a kind of public unity. When Hazel returned to Sydney University, she found an institution which was in the process of rapid expansion. The old days of small resources and smaller staffs were giving way to large-scale recruitment and greater variety of courses. Tutorials had made their appearance and post-graduate work could now be done full-time. Hazel had never taught at a university but she took to lecturing and teaching with a will. She was a patient instructor and a sympathetic listener: a good teacher must be both. The younger students, in particular, responded to her warmth and understanding. In one respect, Hazel represented an older state of affairs at Sydney. In the days of small faculties, lecturers had been expected to teach in a variety of different courses, regardless of their acquaintance with the subject matter. This tradition was now in retreat. But Hazel taught a large first year course in early modern European history. It was not her speciality and never became so. She continued to give the course for many years, a popular and competent lecturer. It was a measure of her professionalism.

University expansion meant much more scope for post-graduate studies. Here, Australian history came into its own. Hazel became a busy supervisor of doctoral and masters' candidates and a sought after examiner of post-graduate theses. Her supervision was marked by great concern for the student; as an examiner, her standards were high, to the point of being lofty. The atmosphere of scholarly activity naturally stimulated the work of the staff of the History Department. Hazel wrote articles and played an active role in the State Working Party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. She was the natural choice as author of the entry on Bourke in the first volume.

Hazel had become a senior lecturer in 1966 and took leave next year to work further on Governor Bourke. The outcome was a formal biography, published by Oxford University Press at Melbourne in 1971. While based on her Oxford thesis, the book marked an important shift in Hazel's historical interests. The thesis had been about Bourke and British colonial policy; the book was about Richard Bourke.

Hazel clearly admired Bourke, not simply for what he did but for what he was. In her article on Bourke in the first volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, she had described Bourke as just and humane but liable to be indiscreet and over-enthusiastic. But, she had added: 'He had great personal charm, made warm and lasting friendships, and was deeply loved by his family.' It was these latter qualities that appealed to Hazel and prompted her to conclude the 'Introduction' to her book with a sentence that was not an apology but a statement:

[Bourke] lived through stirring and momentous times, but daily life is not entirely, nor even very greatly, made up of momentous public events, and the biographer may claim the privilege of looking at the small things, the private domestic events, for they too have their importance in shaping a man's life and contribute towards making him the man that he is.

These attributes came to the fore again in the book that Hazel spent the next ten years preparing and writing. Elizabeth Macarthur and her World (1980) was once more an acute study of the life and setting of an important figure in early Australian history, an account of a crucial colonial personage. But here the balance was different. Whereas the public life of Bourke had been well-known and Hazel was concerned to reveal the man beneath the uniform, Mrs Macarthur had generally been depicted as John's wife, the matriarch of the clan. Jill Ker Conway had made an important attempt at revision in the second volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (1967), but Hazel's work was more systematic and thorough. While treating, with subtlety and sensitivity, the family affairs of Elizabeth Macarthur, she presented a strong case for her inclusion in the list of Australia's leading figures.

Hazel followed up her study of Elizabeth Macarthur with another, closer in time and relationship to herself. In 1986, she published an edition of the letters of her own half-sister, Olive King. Titled One Woman at War, it dealt with Olive's remarkable career as an ambulance driver with the Serbian Army from 1916 and then as a field worker for the Serbian-Australian Relief Fund in the no less hazardous conditions of the post-war Balkans.

Hazel's interest in these courageous pioneer women was an indication that she herself had developed a growing concern for the role (and the problems) of women in professional and community life in her own time. Already she had become a moving spirit in Zonta, an organisation which promoted fellowship among women in professional occupations. To Zonta she gave much time and great enthusiasm, travelling widely to attend meetings and eventually composing its history. Hazel had long known what it was like to be bereft of professional opportunities; she was doing her best to help others benefit from her long-delayed successes.

Hazel retired from the University of Sydney in 1974. For her, retirement meant little more than a shift in emphasis. She had always been interested in the Australian Institute of International Affairs; she wrote a short history of its New South Wales branch in 1982, titled At Mid Century. She kept up her work for the Australian Dictionary of Biography and now she found more time to go to concerts and theatres, as she had done since her girlhood. But it was the Royal Australian Historical Society which increasingly occupied her time. Hazel was certainly no stranger to History House in 1975. She had been a member of the Society since 1954. She belonged to a generation of History Department members at Sydney University who believed that it was a part of their franchise to take some role in the Society's affairs. In 1962, not long after her return from Oxford, she was elected to the Society's Council.

Hazel joined the Council at a good time. After some rumbustious episodes in the mid 1950s, things had settled down and the Society was beginning to expand its activities and its membership. The 'Foundation Books' were ready to appear; the first moves were being made to work with the (then quite few) affiliated societies; with the arrival of Harry Harper in 1964 as General Secretary, big strides were made in the recruitment of members. The atmosphere suited Hazel: she never like partisan politics; she did like to get things done.

An opportunity soon presented itself. In 1964, the Council resolved to overhaul the Journal. The small publication, with its soft blue cover, was to give way to a larger issue, with quarterly numbers instead of a notional (though often irregular) six. Hazel was appointed one of the editors. Thus began one of the most remarkable contributions ever made to the work of the Society. Joined a few years later by Brian Fletcher, Hazel presided over the Journal for many years. There were to be modest changes in cover and format, but the standard of the contents and the regularity of the publication rarely varied. Editorship suited Hazel. She was careful, even meticulous (except as a typist); she had great patience; she was unobtrusive in her editing. She knew how to make a poor article presentable and a good article better. She was never ruffled by typos or deadlines.

On one matter–a crucial one–Hazel was adamant. For her the Journal was the vehicle for scholarly research and writing. It existed to advance the understanding of Australian history. Whether an author was a young university student, a keen local historian or an accepted authority, the articles had to conform to the same standards of scholarship and presentation. From time to time, both within and the beyond the Council, suggestions came forward to lighten the Journal, 'to make it more popular'. Hazel never objected to the Journal being popular, but not at the expense of soundness and a serious approach. Never ruffled, she would, on occasion, defend the Journal with a firmness that sometimes could surprise its would-be reformers. An adamantine Hazel was an impressive sight.

The Journal was a perpetual task. But Hazel was by no means confined to it. She sat on many committees, she worked hard for the library and she was much involved in the move of History House from Young to Macquarie Streets. Hazel's seniority on the Council and the service that she gave to its work meant that she came to be thought of as an office-holder. She became Senior Vice-President and, in 1982, President. Hazel was the first woman to hold this high office. It is likely that, at the time, no-one noticed that there was a new kind of president. What they did notice was that they had acquired a very good president.

The years 1982-85 were not easy ones. The financial situation had deteriorated, membership had slowed and there was controversy about the desirability of selling History House. Hazel presided with serenity. She was a deft guide of a meeting, able to channel discussion into relevance, skilled in deflecting difficulties; and above all she was always good-humoured.

The president's task is many sided. There are the representational duties, showing the Society's flag to the world. There are the affiliated societies to be visited and encouraged. There are government departments to be kept on side. There are the lectures and functions at History House. Long training had made Hazel a superb hostess; much application fitted her for the other roles. Hazel, above all, was a hands-on president. She would help out in the library, address envelopes, answer the telephone. She was always ready to talk to members and visitors and she had a keen eye for the Society's finances. She arranged book sales and went on excursions–and the Journal continued to appear regularly.

Hazel had generally topped the poll in elections for councillors. She was just as popular as president. When her term of office came to an end, she was returned as a councillor with no less a vote.

Hazel's last year on Council was 1987 but she kept up her work for the Society. Having moved in 1980 from Double Bay to Darling Point, she was a little nearer to History House and to the Women's Club (of which she was a keen member) as well as to her Zonta meetings and her visits to theatres and galleries. Above all there was her family, her brother and his wife and their children, to whom she was devoted. She was proud of her ancestry–she kept her clergyman grandfather's Hebrew Bible and his Eton Greek Grammar (in which all the explanations were in Latin). In 1992, she recalled some of her family's story in a video made for the Society.

Increasing disability restricted Hazel's movements in her last years. She died peacefully in her sleep in a Randwick nursing home on Wednesday 3 December last. The funeral was at St James' Church, Sydney on Monday 8 December. After cremation, her ashes were taken to Armidale.

The nation made her a member of the Order of Australia and the Society made her a Fellow. These were distinctions that she prized greatly. But it was the contribution that she made to the community and to the cause of History in her later years for which she will be remembered.

Dr King's other contribution to the writing of Australian history is recorded in the pages of this journal, of which she was an editor for over twenty-six years, from volume 50 (3), November 1964 to volume 76 (4), April 1991.

Richard Bourke (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1971).

With Judy Birmingham, J. W. Thomson and others, Elizabeth Farm Parramatta: reports prepared for the steering committee of the Heritage Council of New South Wales for the restoration of Elizabeth Farm (Sydney, Heritage Council of NSW, 1979).

Elizabeth Macarthur and her World (Sydney, Sydney University Press, 1980).

At Mid Century: a Short History of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, 1924-1980 (Sydney, the Institute of International Affairs, 1982).

One Woman at War: the Letters of Olive King, 1915-1920 (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1986).

Colonial Expatriates: Edward and John Macarthur, junior (Kenthurst, Kangaroo Press, 1989).

Zonta in the Antipodes: a Short History of Zonta International District XVI (np [Sydney]; 1989)

'Some aspects of police administration in New South Wales, 1825-1851', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 42 (5) (1956), pp 205-30.

'Problems of police administration in New South Wales, 1825-1851', JRAHS, vol. 44 (2) (1958), pp 149-70, paper read to the society, 26 March 1957; and corrigenda, vol. 44 (4), P 259.

'The Humanitarian Leanings of Governor Bourke', Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol. 10 (37) (November 1961), pp 19-29.

'Sir Richard Bourke and his two colonial administrations: a comparative study of Cape Colony and New South Wales', JRAHS, vol. 49 (5) (1964), pp 360-75, paper read to the society, 28 March 1963.

Bourke, Sir Richard, governor; Campbell, Peiter Laurentz, public servant; Chapman, Israel, convict and policeman; Gore, William, provost-marshal, Australian Dictionary of Biography (Carlton, Melbourne University Press), vol. 1 (1966).

'Villains all?', review article for A. G. L. Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies (London, 1966) and A. G. L. Shaw, Heroes and Villains in History: Governors Darling and Bourke in New South Wales (Sydney, 1966), in JRAHS, vol. 53 (1) (March 1967), pp 72-86.

Miles, William Augustus, commissioner of police; Rossi, Francis Nicholas, soldier, public servant; Slade, Ernest Augustus, police magistrate; Wilson, Henry Croasdaile, barrack master, police magistrate, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2 (1967).

'Early life of Sir Richard Bourke', JRAHS, vol. 55 (4) (December 1969), pp 309-27, paper read to the society, 25 June 1968; reprinted as a monogram by the society.

'Lieutenant John Wales and Macquarie's improvements to Parramatta–a note and document', JRAHS, vol. 59 (2) (June 1973), pp 148-52.

King, the Revd George, Anglican clergyman (with K. J. Cable); McLerie, John, police officer; Mayne, William Colburn, soldier, public servant, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5 (1974).

'Pulling strings at the Colonial Office', JRAHS, vol. 61 (3) (September 1975), pp 145-64, paper read to the society, 27 November 1973.

Armfield, Lilian May, policewoman, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 7 (1979). 'Frederick Goulburn: the Man and the Office', Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 38 (3) (September 1979), pp 233-45.

Day, Ernest Charles, police officer, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 8 (1981).

'Man in a Trap: Alexander Macleay, Colonial Secretary of NSW', JRAHS, vol. 68 (1) (June 1982), pp 37-48.

'Alpacas and Victoria: a note', JRAHS, vol. 69 (2) (September 1983), pp 118-19.

'John Macarthur Junior and the formation of the Australian Agricultural Company', JRAHS, vol. 71 (3) (December 1985), pp 177-88.

'The Royal Australian Historical Society: Part II; Growth and Change: the Society, 1955-1985', JRAHS, vol. 73 (4) (April 1988), pp 267-76, paper read to the society at its 85th anniversary, 25 March 1986.

Unpublished research theses
Police organisation and administration in New South Wales, 1825-1851, M.A., University of Sydney, 1956.

Aspects of British colonial policy, 1825-37, with particular reference to the administration of General Sir Richard Bourke, D.Phil., Oxford, 1960.

Ruth Frappell Senior Vice President
Ruth Frappell wishes here to record her own indebtedness to Dr King as a teacher, an editor and a lady of learning 

Original publication

View the list of ADB articles written by Alice Hazel King

Additional Resources

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'King, Alice Hazel (1908–1997)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

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