Casey, Richard Gardiner, Baron Casey 1890-1976, Australian politician, diplomat, and imperial proconsul, was born 29 August 1890 in Brisbane, Queensland, the elder son (there were no daughters) of Richard Gardiner Casey, a pastoralist with mining interests, of Brisbane, and his wife, Evelyn Jane, younger daughter of George Harris, merchant, of Brisbane. He was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Melbourne University, and Cambridge University, where he graduated with a second class in mechanical sciences in 1913. Casey returned to Australia via the United States and had barely begun an engineering career when he joined the Australian Imperial Force in October 1914. He served in Egypt, Gallipoli, and France, rising to the rank of general staff officer. He was appointed to the DSO (1918) and awarded the MC (1917).
The war over, he returned to Australia and assumed several of his late father's mining directorships. However, he craved travel and public service, and on 1 October 1924 the Australian prime minister, S. M. Bruce (later Viscount Bruce of Melbourne) [qv.], appointed him Australia's first liaison officer attached to the Cabinet Secretariat in Whitehall. Casey's task was to keep Bruce au courant with day-to-day imperial problems, and occasionally to act for the Australian government in relations with the City.
In 1931 Casey entered the Australian Federal Parliament as member for Corio (Victoria) in the United Australia Party interest. His rise was rapid—assistant treasurer 1933-5, treasurer 1935-9. Casey's financial management was orthodox, though he had a social conscience which in 1938 led to Australia's first National Health Insurance Bill. Unfortunately (Sir) R. G. Menzies [qv.] chose the issue to split the Cabinet in a challenge to the leadership of the prime minister, Joseph Lyons [qv.], and the Bill was shelved. In April 1939 Lyons died, and Casey, Lyons's favourite for successor, chose to stand aside for Bruce. It was a bad miscalculation: Bruce reneged, Casey's rival Menzies assumed the mantle, and Casey lost the Treasury.
Menzies appointed Casey minister for supply and development to organize the economy for the impending war. In October 1939 Casey visited London for supply talks and to help decide Australian military commitment to Europe. With Casey out of the country, Menzies won over the Country Party, who still had wanted Casey as prime minister. Consequently Casey resigned his seat to become Australia's first minister to the United States in March 1940.
In Washington Casey worked hard, usually in harness with the British ambassador, to bring the Americans into the war against Hitler and to secure a guarantee of aid against potential Japanese attacks on British possessions in the Pacific. Both objectives were achieved by late 1941.
Casey's work impressed (Sir) Winston Churchill, who, in early 1942, appointed him British minister resident in the Middle East with a seat in the War Cabinet. Among his most ticklish jobs was negotiating the replacing of Sir Claude Auchinleck as commander by Alexander [qv.] and Montgomery [qv.] in August 1942. After El Alamein, Casey concentrated upon civil administration. He employed characteristically simple and direct methods. Cabinet was persuaded to mop up inflation in the Middle East, including Iran, by buying up £22 — million of local currencies with gold, 1943-5. Wheat shortages were solved by massive procurement campaigns. A Lebanese political crisis was averted when a Casey bluff induced the French to release the local Cabinet from jail.
So successful was Casey's trouble-shooting that, in early 1944, Churchill made him governor of Bengal to secure the base for the drive by Mountbatten [qv.] against the Japanese in Burma. Here too his new broom was effective. He reorganized the embattled administration, inoculated virtually the whole population (54 of 65 million) against smallpox, and set about a gigantic food procurement programme to offset the likelihood of another famine of 1943 proportions when over a million had died. Casey's methods impressed the government of India, which gave him an extra £10 million subvention in his first year, but upset local politicians, and in his last year in Bengal he ruled by decree. In March 1946 he returned to Australia.
It took Casey three years to re-enter Australian politics and the ministry. From 1951 to 1960, as minister for external affairs, he encouraged closer relations with Asia and the United States via the Colombo plan and ANZUS and SEATO pacts. A notable achievement was the Antarctic treaty (1959) which secured the continent for peaceful scientific research. In 1956 he privately opposed the use of force over Suez; an issue which lost him a ballot for the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party of Australia. He retired in 1960 and was created a life peer, Baron Casey, of Berwick and the City of Westminster. From 1965 to 1969 he was governor-general of Australia. He died of pneumonia in Melbourne 17 June 1976.
Casey married Ethel Marian Sumner (Maie), daughter of Major-General Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan, surgeon, of Melbourne, on 24 June 1926. He was survived by his wife who died in 1983, daughter, and son. His pleasant, direct manner and capacity for work made him an outstanding diplomat and administrator, though he lacked the mental agility and political sense necessary to achieve the Australian prime ministership to which he aspired.
Casey was admitted to the Privy Council (1939), appointed CH (1944) and GCMG (1965), and created KG (1969).
Casey Papers, National Library of Australia
T. B. Millar (ed.), Australian Foreign Minister: The Diaries of R. G. Casey, 1951-60, 1972
W. J. Hudson and J. North (eds.), My Dear P.M.: R. G. Casey's Letters to S. M. Bruce, 1924-1929, 1980
Ethel Marion S. Casey, Tides and Eddies, 1966
R. G. Casey, An Australian in India, 1947, Double or Quit, 1949, Friends and Neighbours, 1954, Personal Experience: 1939-1946, 1962, and Australian Father and Son, 1966
Contributor: Carl Bridge