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Chaffey, Frank Augustus (1888–1940)

by Terry Hogan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Frank Augustus Chaffey (1888-1940), by unknown photographer, 1929

Frank Augustus Chaffey (1888-1940), by unknown photographer, 1929

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 14501

Frank Augustus Chaffey (1888-1940), farmer and politician, was born on 31 March 1888 at Rock View near Moonbi, New South Wales, sixth son of William Adolphus Chaffey, farmer from Somerset, England, and his native-born wife Amelia, née Chad. Educated at Nemingha and Tamworth public schools, he went to Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1904, gaining its diploma and prizes in 1906. Next year he received a certificate in woolclassing from Sydney Technical College, then joined his brothers in a mixed-farming partnership at Nemingha.

Chaffey represented Tamworth at football and later was an almost fanatical fisherman. An active Freemason, he became grand master of the Peel Lodge. From 1911 he was the first secretary of the Tamworth district council of the Farmers and Settlers' Association. On 1 May 1912 at St John's Church of England he married a nurse Amy Stella McIlveen, daughter of a grazier. Next year, as the Liberal and F.A.S.A. candidate, he defeated Robert Levien for the Tamworth seat in the Legislative Assembly.

Joining the 5th (New England) Light Horse Regiment as a trooper, Chaffey was promoted second lieutenant in 1913. In September 1915 he was commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force in the 1st Light Horse Regiment. In 1916-18 he served as quartermaster and adjutant at the 2nd Division Base Depot in France and the Anzac Corps Reinforcement Camp at Etaples. Promoted captain in 1917, he was later mentioned in dispatches.

In 1919 Chaffey returned to Australia and his parliamentary duties (his seat had been successfully defended on his behalf in 1916) and resisted pressure to join the Progressives, though he supported the New England New State Movement. Representing the Namoi as a Nationalist until 1927, then Tamworth until 1940, he was a member of Sir George Fuller's seven-hour cabinet on 20 December 1921. In Fuller's coalition ministry he was assistant minister for lands and agriculture from April to June 1922, then minister of agriculture until June 1925. His recommendations on the rationalization of wheat-pools were adopted, he helped to improve dairy-produce standards and founded the Agricultural Bureau of New South Wales. He was secretary for mines and minister for forests under (Sir) Thomas Bavin in 1927-29, then colonial secretary until November 1930. Although he had moved his formal place of residence to Sydney in 1922, Chaffey proved an able and forceful representative for Tamworth and district, procuring water and sewerage supplies, flood-mitigation works, many public buildings and schools, extension of rural electricity, and roads. He continued to enjoy the pleasures of country life, and from 1928 was a councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, and later became chief steward.

Chaffey returned to office in 1932 as colonial secretary under (Sir) Bertram Stevens. In this position he wielded considerable power, pushing, for example, the Vagrancy (Amendment) Act, 1929, the Charitable Collections Act, 1934, and legislation favourable to rural interests through parliament. As minister in charge of police during the difficult Depression years, he was under constant attack and occasional death-threat for alleged police misconduct. He was very active in the foundation of Police boys' clubs as a means of diverting youthful offenders. In April 1938 Stevens removed him from office in a general reshuffle, despite Chaffey's vigorous denials of ill health.

His health had in fact been poor for some time. Survived by his wife, two sons and four daughters, Chaffey died of coronary occlusion at his Rose Bay home on 9 July 1940 and was cremated. His son William Adolphus Chaffey represented Tamworth in 1940-73.

Generous and friendly if somewhat reserved, Chaffey was deeply, sometimes quite emotionally, concerned with rural pursuits. He was an unrelenting foe of the Left. The honesty of his private and public dealings was never doubted, and his estate, valued for probate at £4872, indicates that he put the public good before his own pecuniary interests. He was a staunch Anglican.

Select Bibliography

  • Fighting Line, 19 Nov 1913
  • Northern Daily Leader, 10, 11 July 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 July 1940
  • W. A. Chaffey, Memoirs (privately held)
  • Hawkesbury Agricultural College Archives (Richmond, NSW).

Citation details

Terry Hogan, 'Chaffey, Frank Augustus (1888–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chaffey-frank-augustus-5543/text9445, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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