Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.

WALSH, Leo Austin, and WALSH, Vivian Claude

(1881–1951) and (1888–1950).

Pioneer airmen.

A new biography of Walsh, Austin Leonard appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

A new biography of Walsh, Vivian Claude appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Leo Austin Walsh was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, in 1881, son of Austin Walsh, J.P. The family emigrated to Auckland in 1883 where Vivian Claude was born in 1888. The brothers were educated at King's College, Auckland, where Leo was a foundation pupil.

Leo became an engineer and was an importer of diesel engines. In 1909 the brothers collaborated in building an aeroplane which many claim was the first constructed in New Zealand. This pioneer aircraft made its first flight, in the hands of Vivian Walsh, on 5 February 1910. Vivian had taught himself to fly this aircraft without instruction of any kind. In 1914 the brothers again set to work to construct an aeroplane, this time a seaplane which – with more justification – is likewise claimed to have been the first of its kind in New Zealand, the first flight taking place on 1 January 1915. During this year the brothers established a flying school to train pilots for the Royal Flying Corps, a lead which Henry Wigram was quick to follow. The school was near Auckland and, by the end of 1918, 110 pilots had been trained and posted. After the war the school continued with training for civil purposes; it was sited at Kohimarama with Leo as managing director and Vivian as superintendent.

In 1921 Leo went to Fiji and in July of that year organised and took part in the first flight around the island group. On 4 October 1921 he shared in a record-breaking five-hour flight from Auckland to Wellington. In spite of his continuing close connection with aircraft, Leo himself never qualified as a pilot. Both Leo and Vivian were members of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain, and Vivian was the first New Zealander to hold a pilot's licence issued by the club.

Neither brother married, Vivian died at Auckland on 3 July 1950 and Leo, in the same house, on 16 July 1951. They were survived by two unmarried sisters.

by Keith Kennedy Campbell, M.A.(N.Z.), Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Melbourne.

  • The Kiwi's First Wings, Mulgan, D. K. (1960)
  • Evening Post, 4 Jul 1950 and 17 Jul 1951 (Obit).

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