Woman Patrick, Alison Mary Houston (1921 - 2006)

24 March 1921
Kew, Victoria, Australia
16 March 2006
Canterbury, Victoria, Australia
Alternative Names
  • Hamer, Alison Mary Huston (Maiden)

Written by Charles Sowerwine, The University of Melbourne with material graciously supplied by Tim Tackett

Alison Patrick was a world leader in the history of the French Revolution. Alison Mary Houston Hamer was born the third of four children on 24 March 1921, in her parents' house in the Melbourne suburb of Kew (Victoria). She was born into what one might call the progressive Melbourne establishment. Her father, Hubert Hamer, was a respected Melbourne solicitor. Her mother, Nancy McLuckie, had been a nurse before her marriage. Her brothers were to become a distinguished Liberal Premier of Victoria, a Liberal Senator from Victoria, and a Managing Director of ICI Australia. She first attended St Margaret's School, Toorak, finishing her schooling at St Catherine's School, Toorak. While at school, in a curious presage of her future, she was occasionally tutored in history by the young Manning Clark, later one of Australia's most distinguished historians. In 1939, after a year at a finishing school in Sydney, she enrolled in the Arts Faculty at the University of Melbourne. She was awarded her B.A. with First-Class Honours in 1942, coming first in history, which won her the coveted Dwight Prize. She married James Finlay Patrick in 1944.

Patrick became an historian while raising a family of four and fulfilling all the duties then required of the wife of a leading community figure (Finlay Patrick became senior solicitor in Melbourne of the Commonwealth Bank and was also a lay leader of the Anglican Church in Victoria). In 1947, Professor Max Crawford, the legendary Head who made the University of Melbourne's History Department pre-eminent in Australia, appointed her a sessional tutor; only in 1963 was she named to a continuing position as Lecturer. Long before that, in 1950, she and Alan McBriar began teaching the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions in Modern Europe. This course sparked her lifelong interest in the French Revolution.

Patrick became a pioneer in the history of the French Revolution, initiating and writing her PhD without supervision! The French Revolution is one of the world's most contested areas of historical research, the Everest of modern history, but Patrick climbed it alone and undaunted. In the relaxed university of the 1960s, she simply assumed she had only to present a finished PhD. Even then, authorities were surprised when she submitted a PhD thesis on which no supervisor had signed off. This was quickly remedied and the PhD passed with flying colours. In 1972, she published it as The Men of the First French Republic with Johns Hopkins University Press, one of world's leading academic publishers in the field.

The Men of the First French Republic was a study of the National Convention, the assembly that governed France during a critical period of the French Revolution. Patrick's study is a sophisticated and pioneering quantitative study of the socio-economic backgrounds and parliamentary action of the more than 750 deputies who sat in this body during the first nine months of its existence. She gave particular attention to the trial of Louis XVI, offering the first thorough study of the votes and speeches on the king's conviction and punishment. She proved that the vote for the king's death resulted not from fear or terror, but from the evidence presented that Louis had indeed committed treason.

After this book, Patrick explored issues of local government and administration during the Revolution and published a number of important studies. She contributed substantially to French history in Australia, leading in setting up the bi-annual George Rudé Seminars, the first of which was held in 1976, and which continue to this day to provide a forum for dialogue among senior scholars across the world and development of younger Australian historians.

She also assumed the burdens of University leadership. During her two highly successful terms as Head, the History Department blossomed and she prepared the next generation for leadership. She also served a term as Head of the Italian Department, an act of community service to tide that department over a difficult period before she retired in 1986.

Long after her retirement, Patrick continued to supervise, research and publish. In 2006 the Department of History published a collection of her work, for which she wrote a new preface. The distinguished historian of the French Revolution, Tim Tackett, who in many ways is Alison's intellectual heir, wrote an extremely insightful and gracious foreword. Alison Patrick died 16 March 2009 in Canterbury, Victoria.

Additional sources: Patrick, Kate. Information on her mother, Alison Patrick, from family archives.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Patrick, Alison, 'Born Lucky', in Patricia Grimshaw and Lynne Strahan (eds), The Half-Open Door: Sixteen Modern Australian Women Look at Professional Life and Achievement, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, New South Wales, 1982. Details
  • Tackett, Tim, 'Foreword', in Patrick, Alison (ed.), Revolution for beginners: reflections on the history of late eighteenth-century France, The University of Melbourne: Department of History, Melbourne, Victoria, 2006. Details

Edited Books

  • Anderson, Fay and Macintyre, Stuart (eds), The Life of the Past: the discipline of history at the University of Melbourne 1855-2005, The University of Melbourne: Department of History, Melbourne, Victoria, 2006. Details

Online Resources

See also