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Foster, Francis Henry (1888–1979)

by William F. Foster

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

Francis Henry Foster (1888-1979), pastoralist, businessman and politician, was born on 16 January 1888 at Brighton, Sussex, England, eldest of four children of Colonel Henry Foster, farmer of Merton Vale, Campbell Town, Tasmania, and his wife Blanche Laura, née Keach. John Foster was Francis's grandfather. Educated at the Launceston Church Grammar School, Francis entered Trinity College, University of Melbourne (B.C.E., 1911). He practised only briefly as a civil engineer, at one time under (Sir) John Monash, before travelling to England with his family in 1912 where he inspected industrial establishments. Next year he motored through western Queensland with his friend Douglas Fraser, visiting pastoral properties connected with the Collins family. Both trips stimulated Foster's commercial interests and aspirations. Having been commissioned in the Militia in 1915, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 27 February 1918 and served in France from September with the 4th Field Company, Engineers. He returned to Australia as a lieutenant and his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 22 August 1919. At St David's Anglican Cathedral, Hobart, on 11 December 1929 he married Patricia Ainslie Wood.

The wartime death of his brother, John, committed Foster to managing the family's Tasmanian farming interests, which included Fosterville, Merton Vale, the Mersey Estate, Cape Portland and (from 1932) Mineral Banks. From 1933 to 1947 the family also owned Langi-Kal-Kal, near Ballarat, Victoria. In 1925 Foster had bought Monkira station in Queensland's Channel country from Sir Sidney Kidman; in 1937 he acquired a significant shareholding in the North Australian Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd, of which he was to remain a director until 1971. Monkira was brought into the company in 1939.

Approachable and unassuming, Foster was a systematic and practical man, with a keen intellect and a quiet authority. He was chairman (1935) of the Tasmanian Meat Board and the State's inaugural representative (1936) on the Australian Meat Board; he was also a committee-member (1932-66), president (1941-44) and treasurer (1948-66) of the Tasmanian Farmers', Stockowners' and Orchardists' Association. Appointed to the Tasmanian Wool Committee in 1939, he was, as well, vice-president of the Graziers' Federal Council in 1944. As a Nationalist candidate, Foster was elected for Wilmot to the Tasmanian House of Assembly in February 1937; he was defeated in December 1941.

Although politically and socially conservative, Foster was always interested in scientific developments, and receptive to new technological ideas and investment opportunities. He was chairman of many Tasmanian companies, among them Perpetual Insurance & Securities Ltd, Perpetual Trustees, Executors & Agency Co. of Tasmania Ltd and Murex (Australasia) Pty Ltd. In Victoria he was a director of Prestige Ltd and Industrial Engineering Ltd, and founding chairman (1950-71) of Industrial & Pastoral Holdings Ltd. Foster served on the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania's postwar land development committee in 1941-51 and on the board of inquiry into Bass Strait Islands transport facilities in 1948-49. He chaired (1943-49) the Tasmanian committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and was a governor (1962-75) of the Ian Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation, Melbourne, a trustee (1948) of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and chairman (1949-51) of the board of The Hutchins School. Survived by his wife, two sons and four daughters, he died on 31 May 1979 at his Hobart home and was cremated; his ashes were placed in the family vault at Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Kowald and W. R. Johnston, You Can't Make it Rain (Brisb, 1992)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

William F. Foster, 'Foster, Francis Henry (1888–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/foster-francis-henry-10223/text18073, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 29 July 2014.

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

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