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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fletcher, Jacob (1892–1970)

by David Lee

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Jacob Fletcher (1892-1970), public servant, was born on 15 February 1892 at Jeffcott West, near Donald, Victoria, second of three children of Jacob Fletcher, a farmer from England, and his native-born wife Elizabeth Ann, née Buchanan, a former schoolteacher. Educated at Donald Higher Elementary School, on 6 August 1906 young Jacob joined the Postmaster-General's Department as a telegraph messenger. In 1910 he became a postal-assistant at Leongatha; next year he was promoted telegraphist and transferred to Queensland.

Rejected once on medical grounds, Fletcher enlisted as a sapper in the Australian Imperial Force on 31 January 1916. He was then 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm) tall, with a sallow complexion, hazel eyes and black hair. In 1916-18 he served on the Western Front with the 3rd Divisional Signal Company and in 1919 as a temporary sergeant with the War Records Section, London. Returning to Melbourne, he was discharged on 5 January 1920 and resumed his Commonwealth Public Service career with the Department of Health. In 1927 he moved to Canberra. Following terms as private secretary to Sir Neville Howse and (Sir) Henry Gullett, Fletcher was appointed in 1930 to the correspondence and records branch, Department of Trade and Customs.

From 1933 he worked in the trade treaties and agreements branch. Because of Japan's importance as a buyer of Australian wool, the Lyons government began discussions in 1934 with the Japanese who wanted a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation. Fletcher assisted in the negotiations until 1936. In that year the Federal government announced its trade diversion policy which limited Australia's rayon and cotton imports from Japan in favour of British manufactures to ensure access to Britain's markets for Australian beef and other primary products. When Japan retaliated, Fletcher took part in efforts to settle the dispute. During the mid-1930s he also helped to conclude trade agreements with Belgium and France.

In 1941-44 he was based in Washington as his department's chief delegate to the economic mission exploring the possibility of a trade agreement between Australia and the United States of America. F. L. McDougall, who met him there, thought him 'a good chap'. Fletcher also gave advice on matters of principle in regard to Lend-Lease arrangements. Back home, he rose to director of his branch in 1946. In the following year he was one of the Australian government's key advisers at trade discussions in Geneva. The U.S.A. proposed to reduce its tariffs by 50 per cent in exchange for the abolition of the system of Imperial preferences, but the delegations from Britain and the dominions only offered modest concessions in scaling down their existing arrangements.

Fletcher was promoted director of research in 1951 and assistant comptroller-general (trade) in 1954. He was appointed I.S.O. in 1957, the year of his retirement. A bachelor, he continued to live in the Hotel Wellington, Barton, as he had done from the 1940s. He died on 27 January 1970 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • R. J. Bell, Unequal Allies (Melb, 1977)
  • H. C. Coombs, Trial Balance (Melb, 1981)
  • S. McIntyre, The Succeeding Age (Melb, 1993)
  • Canberra Times, 13 June 1957, 29 Jan 1970
  • D. N. Lee, From Fear of Depression to Fear of War (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1991)
  • Fletcher papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

David Lee, 'Fletcher, Jacob (1892–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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