Captain Alfred Martin Treacy

Some RAN Supply Branch personnel may recall from their time at HMAS Cerberus that the building that houses the Supply and Health Faculty is called the Treacy Building. Some may even have read the small bronze plaque that was placed on the lower floor of the building, in 1979, and which briefly describes the man after whom the building is named: but who actually was Alfred Martin Treacy and why is he the father of the RAN Supply Branch?

Alfred Treacy was born in the central Victorian town of Newstead on 28 April 1869, the son of John Treacy, Publican of a local hotel, and Mary Margaret Treacy (nee Hogan). He had a strict Roman Catholic upbringing and after his schooling joined the Victorian Public Service as an accountant. In early 1894 he applied to join the Victorian Navy as a Paymaster officer and commenced service in the permanent forces on 21 May 1894. In 1894 the Victorian Navy was the largest of the state navies with some 240 permanent personnel and 350 reservists (the Victorian Naval Brigade) and the fleet consisted of the flagship HMVS Nelson, monitor HMVS Cerberus, two gunboats and five torpedo boats. Financially the maintenance of such a large fleet was a drain on the Victorian economy and several of the ships were often held in reserve with only skeleton crews.

Treacy entered the service as a Paymaster’s Clerk (equivalent to a Midshipman) in what was then known as the Accountant Branch. On entry he was described as 6 feet 1 inch tall with brown hair and blue eyes. On 1 July 1895 he was promoted to Assistant Paymaster (equivalent to a Sub-Lieutenant) and five years later, on 21 July 1900, he was promoted to Paymaster (equivalent to a Lieutenant). He spent most of his time either working onboard the flagship Nelson, the monitor Cerberus or at the Williamstown Naval Depot.

Assistant Paymaster Alfred Treacy (standing) onboard HMVS Nelson in 1897. The Captains Cabin, in which he is working, must have been a spacious compartment as Treacy was 6 feet and 1 inch tall and his head is well clear of the deckhead
Assistant Paymaster Alfred Treacy (standing) onboard HMVS Nelson in 1897. The Captains Cabin, in which he is working, must have been a spacious compartment as Treacy was 6 feet and 1 inch tall and his head is well clear of the deckhead

In March 1900 the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China and Britain found itself short of troops to deal with the uprising. Britain was as that time fighting a significant war in South Africa against the Boer Republic’s.  Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia all offered naval forces to support the British cause and Victoria provided a 200 man naval brigade and Alfred Treacy became the units Paymaster responsible for not only pay but all provisions, stores, equipment and administration.  The Victorian contingent embarked in the troopship Salamis in early August, along with 260 men from the NSW Naval Brigade and sailed for China on 8 August 1900.  South Australia provided the cruiser Protector which was attached to the Royal Navy Squadron operating in the Gulf of Chihli (Bo Hai). The Queensland Government offered a gunboat but it was rejected as too old and slow.

The Victorian Contingent arrived in China on 9 September, but by then much of the heavy fighting against the Boxers was over and they operated mainly as a police force maintaining the peace and re-asserting the rule of the foreign Governments in China. Treacy was described as a capable officer who was able to maintain the logistics support needed by contingent, but claims, at the time, that he was involved in close fighting with the Boxers can not be substantiated. In March 1901 the Victorian and NSW Naval Contingents embarked in the troopship Chingtu and returned to Australia. 

They steamed in Sydney Harbour on 25 April 1901 to find that Australia was now a Federation and the old state navies were now to be subsumed into what would become the Commonwealth Naval Forces (CNF).  In the mean time, however, the Victorians were held onboard the Chingtu, due to an outbreak of Smallpox, until 3 May when the boarded a train for return to Melbourne the following day. For his service in China, Paymaster Alfred Treacy was awarded the China War Medal 1900 and most likely he also purchased a private award - The Military Order of the Dragon which was available for all commissioned officers for the then princely sum of 10 US Dollars.

At the time of serving in the Victorian Contingent for service in China, Treacy listed his next of kin as his mother, Mary Margaret Treacy, who resided at 21 Fitzgerald Street, South Yarra, Victoria. His religion at the time was also still listed as Roman Catholic.

Paymaster Alfred Martin Treacy in marching kit as a member of the  Victorian Naval Brigade deployed to China in 1900 – 1901 Note the two gold stripes of the Paymaster rank (Equivalent to a Lieutenant) with the white cloth of the Accountant Branch in between
Paymaster Alfred Martin Treacy in marching kit as a member of the Victorian Naval Brigade deployed to China in 1900 – 1901 Note the two gold stripes of the Paymaster rank (Equivalent to a Lieutenant) with the white cloth of the Accountant Branch in between

As a permanent member of the Victorian Navy, Treacy was automatically transferred to the CNF but it was not until 1904 that naval administration was centralised and for some time the state navies continued to operate very much on a state basis. Alfred Treacy served almost continuously as the Paymaster in HMCS Cerberus from 1901 until 1911. Although Cerberus had now been afloat for over 30 years she was still a sea-going vessel and regularly carried out naval exercises in Port Phillip Bay before becoming the static depot ship, at Williamstown, in May 1914.

On 8 September 1906 Alfred Treacy was promoted to the rank of Staff Paymaster (equivalent to a Lieutenant Commander). In August/September 1908 the United States Navy ‘Great White Fleet’ visited Melbourne and men and ships of the CNF were fully employed in supporting this visit.

Alfred Treacy married Alice Maud Keilora Robertson , with Presbyterian rites, at a private residence, Wiljah, in South Yarra on 1 March 1911. They then lived at Jandra, 70 Clendon Road, in Toorak, Victoria. At the time of their marriage Alfred was 41 and Alice was 39. They were to be married for 27 years but had no children.

Shortly after being married Treacy was sent to England for a period of training and was attached to the staff at the Admiralty. During this time he was part of the 37 man Australian Naval Contingent which attended the Coronation celebrations for King George V, who was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 22 June 1911. Alfred Treacy was subsequently awarded the 1911 Coronation Medal. When he returned to Australia in 1912 it was as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy which the CNF had become on 10 July 1911.

After his return to Australia Alfred Treacy became the Director of Naval Stores, Victualing and Contracts at Navy Office; then located in Melbourne. He was promoted to the rank of Fleet Paymaster (equivalent to a Commander) on 1 July 1912. In October 1913 he applied to the Minister for Defence to be considered for the position of Finance and Civil Member (Fourth Naval Member) and Secretary to the Naval Board. This position was then held by Paymaster in Chief (equivalent of a Captain) Henry Manisty, RN who was due to retire in mid-1914. The Minister For Defence, Senator Edward Millen, stated in late December 1913 that ‘As no vacancy exists the submission of such an application is both surprising and reprehensible’. Treacy took offence to these comments and further explained himself to the Minister and the word reprehensible was later withdrawn by the Minister.

A group of Victorian Navy officers circa 1900 Paymaster Alfred Treacy at 6 feet and 1 inch tall is noticeable  due to his height compared with his peers
A group of Victorian Navy officers circa 1900 Paymaster Alfred Treacy at 6 feet and 1 inch tall is noticeable due to his height compared with his peers

Despite this Alfred Treacy was not selected to become the Finance and Civil Member for the Naval Board and instead, in May 1914, George Lionel Macandie, who had joined the Queensland Marine Defence Force, in 1895, as a Clerk was selected to become the Secretary of the Naval Board and given the rank of Honourary Paymaster (Lieutenant). The Finance and Civil Member position was initially gapped and the filled by the Assistant Minister for Defence the Honorable Jens Jensen who, in 1915, became the Minister for the Navy when Defence and Navy became separate Ministries. The Finance and Civil Member position was then gapped again but effectively Macandie filled this role as the Naval Secretary to the Board.  

Macandie was to remain Naval Secretary from 1914 until his retirement in 1946 except for a brief period in 1920-21 when Alfred Treacy actually did fulfill this role. Macandie was, at that time, on loan to the Admiralty for 12 months to gain an insight into higher level naval administration and Treacy became the Acting Naval Secretary for 12 months.  In 1914, however, it would appear that the Naval Board had concerns regarding a serving naval officer filling what was supposed to be a civil position on the board. It is not known now what the relationship between Treacy and Macandie actually was but one commentator later wrote ‘he (Macandie) was belatedly accorded the benefit of a years experience at the British Admiralty from June 1920 - while surviving attempts by lesser men to oust him from office’. While some of these lesser men were the senior naval officers on the Naval Board of 1920 some of this comment was directed at Alfred Treacy.

When World War I commenced, in August 1914, Alfred Treacy was 45 years old and deemed too old to serve at sea. His repeated requests for active service were denied and he remained in the position of Director of Naval Stores, Victualing and Contracts for the duration of the war. He was also vice chairman of the Commonwealth Coal Board which controlled all supplies of coal and electric power for Australia during the war. The Argus newspaper reported that ‘the tactful manner in which he carried out the difficult duties of the position soon gained for him the confidence of merchants and others with whom he had to deal, and enabled the board to carry out its work with the minimum amount of friction’.

On 1 April 1916 Treacy was promoted to the rank of Paymaster in Chief (Captain) and thus became the senior Accountant Branch officer in the RAN (this title was change to Paymaster Captain in late 1918). In 1917-18 a Royal Commission was conducted into irregularities in Navy and Defence Administration, particularly the Lieutenant Davis Howell-Price scandal where this military officer had defrauded the Department of Defence of 67,374 pounds over the period 1914-1916. Howell-Price was convicted in 1917 and sentenced to four years imprisonment. This however was the catalyst to conduct more rigorous checks on the administration of the Army and Navy.  

The Argus claimed that the Royal Commission stated that Treacy had carried out his duties as the Director of Naval Stores, Victualing and Contracts in an efficient manner and recommended that he be appointed to the Naval Board as the Finance Member. On 4 October 1918, Treacy was made an Officer in the Order of the British Empire (OBE) ‘For distinguished services as Director of Naval Stores, Victualing and Contracts’. He was also subsequently awarded the British War Medal 1914-18 which was the standard award for all RAN personnel who had mobilised service in the RAN during the war, but as he had not served overseas he was not entitled to the Victory Medal. Treacy’s OBE, and that of another naval officer, Captain FHC Brownlow, were originally issued in the Civil Division but in the London Gazette of 15 July 1921 they were both transferred to the Military Division.

Following the end of the First World War, Treacy continued on in his role of Director of Naval Stores, Victualing and Contracts until early June 1920 when he assumed the position of Acting Naval Secretary to the Naval Board for 16 months while Lionel Macandie was in Britain on secondment.  Macandie was on loan to the Admiralty for a period of 12 months but was allocated two months traveling time by sea to and from England hence the 16 month period that Treacy was Acting Naval Secretary. Macandie returned to Australia, in September 1921, and resumed his duties as Naval Secretary. 

During Macandie’s absence overseas there was an attempt made by the Naval Board to have Treacy relieve Macandie permanently and have Macandie take up the role of Director of Naval Stores upon his return to Australia. Macandie was advised of this plan after he had left Australia and wrote immediately, and quite bluntly, to the 1st Naval Member (Rear Admiral Grant) and the Minister for Navy (William Laird-Smith) that he had no intention of allowing this to occur. The matter festered on for some weeks until Laird-Smith cabled Macandie, on 19 February 1921, advising him - Well aware you are Secretary, Navy Department. No change will be made in your absence. 

The relationship between the civil and the military officers within the Department of the Navy was often strained and, after handing back the duties of the Naval Secretary to Macandie,  Alfred Treacy then took some well earned leave and then retired from the RAN in early 1922 after 28 years full time service.

In his retirement Treacy was the Secretary of the Melbourne Club which was, and still is, an exclusive private men’s club, established in 1839, and located at 36 Collins Street, Melbourne.  The club is made up of approximately 1500 members; admission being by invitation only. The clubs members are among those that have traditionally been perceived by critics as wielding a disproportionate influence on Melbourne life, with a third of its members being listed in any issue of Who's Who Australia. Treacy was also a patron of Ex Naval Men’s Association in Victoria and a member of the Naval and Military Club of Melbourne.

Treacy had been the President of the Naval and Military Club during the period 1916-1921 but retired when he took up the position of Secretary of the Melbourne Club. Upon his retirement as President a vote of thanks was given to him for his valuable services to the club and the unfailing courtesy displayed by him at all times. He had lead the club ably and, during 1920, he oversaw the move of the club into its new premises (the former German Club at 7 Alfred Place). The club remained there until 1967 when it moved to 27 Little Collins Street. The Naval and Military Club of Melbourne closed in early 2009 after 127 years of service to the service community due to debts and waning membership.

Alfred Martin Tracey died, suddenly at his home, on 9 August 1938 from heart failure and was cremated at Springvale Crematorium on 10 August 1938. The Argus published the following article regarding Alfred Treacy on 11 August 1938:

A large representative gathering attended the funeral at the Springvale Crematorium yesterday (10 August 1938) of Paymaster Captain Alfred Martin Treacy (RAN Retired), Secretary of the Melbourne Club, who died at his home in Clendon Road, Toorak on Tuesday. The service was conducted by the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia (the Right Rev Dr John MacKenzie). Members of the Ex-Naval Men’s Association of which Captain Treacy was a patron, formed a guard of honour from the crematorium gates to the Chapel.

The pall bearers were Major-General Sir Brudenell White, General Sir Harry Chauvel, the President of the Legislative Assembly (Sir Frank Clarke), Brigadier General JP McGlinn, representing the Naval and Military Club, Messrs Richard Turnbull (President of the Melbourne Club), EH Richardson, and J Staughton and Paymaster Commander HM Ramsay.

Vice Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin (1st Naval Member) was represented by Paymaster Captain JB Foley and the Navy Office was represented by the Secretary of the Naval Board (Mr GL Macandie), Paymaster Commander CA Parker and Paymaster Commander HM Ramsay.

The Melbourne Rowing Club was represented by the senior vice president (Mr P Matthews) and the secretary (Mr F Watts). Others who attended the funeral included the secretary of the Victorian Racing Club (Mr AV Kewney) the starter for the Victorian Racing Club and the Victorian Amateur Turf Club (Mr Rupert Greene) and Mr A Bonville-Were, Chairman of the Colonial Mutual Assurance Co Ltd.

When his wife Alice died, on 30 July 1945, she left 10,000 pounds in her will to the HMAS Cerberus Chapel Fund. This money was used partly for the construction of the Memorial Chapel of St Mark which was opened in May 1954.

Medals Awarded to Alfred Martin Treacy (in order of being worn).  The location of his medals is currently not known.

  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Military Division)
  • China War Medal 1900
  • British War Medal 1914 - 1918
  • Coronation Medal 1911 (Silver)
  • Military Order of the Dragon (China 1900)

Documents relating to Alfred Martin Treacy

  1. Nominal Roll - Victorian Contingent for service in China
  2. London Gazette Entries (Officer of the Order of the British Empire)
  3. HMVS Cerberus website
  4. Origins and History of the Supply School HMAS Cerberus Article
  5. Extract from the Australian Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Boxer Uprising 1899-1901
  6. Marriage details 1911
  7. Death Certificate 1938