NotesThis flying cap was worn by Mrs Millicent Bryant, the first woman to gain a pilot's licence in Australia. Millicent Maud Bryant (nee Harvey) was born in Wellington, New South Wales, on 8 June 1878, the eldest daughter of Edmund George Harvey, a grazier, and Georgina. Millicent met her husband-to-be, Edward James Bryant, whilst on a trip to the Sydney beach suburb of Manly. She had gone there with her mother and younger brother, George, who was receiving recuperative 'sea care' for his polio. Edward Bryant was 15 years older than Millicent and employed as a public servant in the Telegraph Department. Millicent and Edward were married in 1900 at Wellington and had three children, George Edward Inigo Bryant, John Harvey Bryant and Bowen Ambrose Bartlett Bryant. The marriage ended in separation and Edward died in 1926.
Nine months after her husband's death, Millicent began training for her pilot's licence with her first flight occurring on 15 November 1926 in a white-coloured DH60 Moth biplane. This was with the famous WWI fighter pilot and flight instructor, Captain Edward Wilmer Leggatt, flown from open grass paddocks of the NSW branch of the Australian Aero Club at Mascot. Flying was a very expensive hobby as each lesson cost about one pound or the equivalent of one week's wages. Female pilots wore jersey breeches, stout stockings and shoes. Contemporaries of Millicent also receiving flying lessons at the time included Evelyn Follett and Margaret Reardon. It is thought that being a widow and not working for a living enabled Millicent to devote more time to regular lessons and she successfully gained her Category 'A' (Private) licence on 23 March 1927. At the time the Government was keen to encourage flying and sponsored all the aero clubs. A successful 'A' licence gained the club about half the pilot's total training costs. By August 1927 there were 22 licenced pilots of whom 3 were women.
As well as being the first woman to gain her pilot's licence, Millicent was also said to have been one of the first women to gain her driver's licence too. As well as flying and driving, Millicent's hobbies and interests were said to include politics, golf and bridge.
Millicent competed in the inaugural Ladies Oakes flying race on 6 October 1927 and came second with Margaret Reardon coming first and Evelyn Follett coming third in the three-entrant race. Millicent's last recorded flight in her logbook (both her pilot's licence and logbook are in the collection of the National Library in Canberra) was on 10 October 1927. A few weeks later her flying career and life were cut tragically short when she became one of the victims of the Greycliffe ferry disaster on Sydney Harbour on the afternoon of 3 November 1927. With a loss of 40 lives, this still remains the worst maritime accident on the Harbour when the SS Tahiti, a large steam ship headed for New Zealand, sliced into the wooden hull of the ferry, Greycliffe. Most of those who drowned were passengers in the saloon while almost all the children, who were travelling outside, survived.
The press covered the disaster extensively and Millicent's funeral was widely reported due to her notoriety of being Australia's first licenced female pilot. Her funeral was held in the North Sydney chapel of the funeral directors, Wood Coffill, on Saturday, 5 November 1927, followed by a motor cavalcade to Manly Cemetery. In a fitting tribute to Millicent, five aircraft from her aero club, piloted by Captains Leggatt and King in one of the Moths, and S.L. Tyler, H.W. Ross, T. O'Dea and H.T. Hammond, flew over the cemetery and, circling above the cortege, dropped a wreath of red carnations and blue delphiniums.
Millicent was buried with her husband but their graves were not marked until the early twenty-first century when Manly Cemetery approached members of the Bryant family and The Australian Women Pilots' Association (AWPA). Organised by the then AWPA President, Judy Rainsford (also a Museum volunteer), this situation was rectified in 2007 in time for the eightieth anniversary of Millicent's licence. Consequently, Millicent is now remembered and her achievement noted on plaques on her grave.
In 2001 Millicent was inducted into the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame at Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
Millicent Bryant's flying cap was donated to the Museum in 2005 by Ms Maki Taguchi. At the time Maki was an education officer working at the Museum and involved in the 'Women with Wings: images of Australian women pilots' exhibition held between 2000 and 2001 which subsequently toured around Australia. Maki is a descendant of Millicent through Millicent's youngest son, Bowen Ambrose Bartlett Bryant.
Information provided by Cathy Hobson, 2017
Hobson, Cathy, 'The mysteries of Millicent Bryant' in Airnews: Official Magazine of The Australian Women Pilots' Association, No. 258, March 2017, pp. 37-40.
Margaret Simpson, Curator, 2017.