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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fraser, Sir Malcolm (1834–1900)

by F. K. Crowley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Malcolm Fraser (1834-1900), by Alfred Choppin

Malcolm Fraser (1834-1900), by Alfred Choppin

State Library of Victoria, H29526

Sir Malcolm Fraser (1834-1900), civil engineer and administrator, was born in Gloucestershire, England, son of William Fraser of Clifton. He was a surveyor in the province of Auckland in 1857-59, district surveyor in the Native Land Purchase Department in 1859-63, district surveyor on the Canterbury West Gold Fields in 1863-67 and chief surveyor for Westland in 1867-69. He also won repute as a naturalist.

In 1870, recommended by Governor (Sir) Frederick Weld, he was appointed surveyor-general of Western Australia, in succession to John Roe. Fraser soon reorganized his department, reduced its permanent staff to the few officers competent in geodesical and trigonometrical surveying and insisted that the routine field work of pegging and traversing be done by private surveyors at piecework rates. The permanent staff became inspectors and also conducted a large-scale trigonometrical survey which, when completed in the late 1880s, linked all the coastal regions of Western Australia from the Kimberley in the north to the Esperance district in the south. This survey led to the making of accurate lithographic maps which were of great value to would-be farmers and itinerant gold seekers as well as giving pastoralists better security of tenure by accurately locating and defining the boundaries of their leases and thereby enabling them to raise loans. Fraser also raised the entrance standards to the surveying profession and, with the help of his deputy, John Forrest, made the Crown Lands Office the most efficient, economical, corruption-free and revenue-producing of the government departments. Fraser encouraged inland exploration and also advised the government on the engineering problems in proposals for building government and private railways.

In 1870 Fraser became a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils and in 1872 was given the additional post of commissioner of crown lands. As colonial secretary in 1883-90 he was the senior member and governor's spokesman in the Legislative Council. He performed this task successfully, though with difficulty because of the irascibility of Governor Sir Frederick Broome, the 'Bear Garden' atmosphere at meetings of the Executive Council and the feuding between Broome and Chief Justice (Sir) Alexander Onslow, Attorney-General Alfred Hensman and Surveyor-General Forrest. During his twenty years in the legislature Fraser was associated with several major revisions of the Crown Land Regulations and active in the constitutional discussions which preceded the establishment of parliamentary government in 1890. He represented Western Australia at several intercolonial conferences, and was made C.M.G. in 1881 and K.C.M.G. in 1887. An able administrator, especially during his early years in Western Australia, he merits notice as one of the few who were able to work in harmony with Sir Napier Broome, an achievement which his contemporaries in the colony found difficult to understand and his superiors in the Colonial Office quite amazing. He made few enemies in his long career and his critics merely noticed that he was no exemplar of plain living.

In 1890 Fraser retired to London on a pension. On the recommendation of the first premier, Sir John Forrest, he was appointed Western Australia's first agent-general in England and held the post until 1898. Aged 66, he died at Clifton on 17 August 1900, predeceased on 20 December 1896 by his wife Elizabeth, née Riddiford, whom he had married on 3 October 1861 in New Zealand. Of their three children, the elder son, William (1863-1884), became a station manager and died at Roebourne.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye, Western Australia (Oxford, 1924)
  • F. K. Crowley, Australia's Western Third (Lond, 1960)
  • F. K. Crowley, Forrest: 1847-1918, vol 1 (Brisb, 1970)
  • Western Mail (Perth), 25 Aug 1900.

Citation details

F. K. Crowley, 'Fraser, Sir Malcolm (1834–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 7 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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