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Lefroy, Sir Henry Bruce (1853–1930)

by Catherine Cameron

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Henry Bruce Lefroy (1853-1930), by unknown photographer, c1917

Henry Bruce Lefroy (1853-1930), by unknown photographer, c1917

State Library of Western Australia, 008876D

Sir Henry Bruce Lefroy (1853-1930), pastoralist and politician, was born on 24 March 1853 at Cambray, St George's Terrace, Perth, elder son of Anthony O'Grady Lefroy and his wife Mary, née Bruce. He was educated in England at an Exmouth preparatory school, Elstree, and at Rugby, where he excelled at sport. When he returned to Western Australia in 1873 he managed his father's property Walebing at Victoria Plains, making it one of the best pastoral properties of the colony. At 21 he became a justice of the peace with virtually the duties of resident magistrate. Having built a fine house at Walebing, Lefroy married, on 15 April 1880 in St George's Cathedral, Perth, Rose Agnes Wittenoom, granddaughter of the colony's first Anglican chaplain, John Burdett Wittenoom; they had three sons and a daughter.

Lefroy was chairman of the Victoria Plains Road Board for thirty years (and from 1909 of the Moora Road Board) and was elected for Moore to the Legislative Assembly in 1892. He accepted Sir John Forrest's policies of development. He was a delegate to the Federal Council of Australasia in Hobart in 1895 and 1897, became minister for education in 1897-98 (when he moved to Perth), and minister for mines in 1898-1901.

The problem for Lefroy and his constituents was that since 1886 land in the region had been controlled by the Midland Railway Co. of Western Australia Ltd. Although the line was completed in 1894 it was not until 1907 that any sale of land began and clearing and fencing could proceed.

In 1901-04 Lefroy was agent-general for Western Australia in London, a position he held unassumingly and with distinction; he was appointed C.M.G. in 1903. Rose Lefroy had died in 1902 and on 23 November 1904 in London Lefroy married Madeline Emily Stewart Walford; they returned to Walebing that year and raised a family of a daughter and two sons. Lefroy formed an Aboriginal cricket team, which he recruited from the New Norcia Mission.

In 1911 Lefroy, a Liberal, again became member for Moore and, later, deputy leader of the Opposition. He was minister for lands and agriculture in Frank Wilson's second ministry from 27 July 1916. Following the Labor split over conscription in 1917, John Scaddan and some of his colleagues transferred their support to the government, but Wilson's leadership proved unacceptable; Lefroy, the last, gentlemanly survivor of the Forrest ministries, was thought to command the necessary prestige. From 28 June, as premier and minister for lands, he led a National Party coalition government of the Liberal, Country and National Labor parties, but was troubled by factionalism. Despite his 'considerable personal magnetism', Lefroy was unable to discipline the ill-assorted group: at one stage the establishment of a royal commission was announced without his knowledge. Members of the ministry remained too tied to their party of origin and Lefroy encountered difficulties over financial policy. In August 1918 (Sir) James Mitchell, a back-bencher, launched a virtual censure motion on the government's alleged dilatory attitude to soldier settlement and the opening-up of unsettled areas in the south-west. Next month Lefroy himself introduced and secured the passing of a Discharged Soldiers' Settlement Act.

He also became treasurer in April 1919, but another crisis immediately erupted. It was revealed in the press that Lefroy had used his casting vote in cabinet to survive a leadership challenge. In embarrassment he resigned his portfolios on 17 April and was replaced by (Sir) Hal Colebatch whom Mitchell supported. Lefroy was appointed K.C.M.G. that year.

He was defeated at the elections in 1921 and spent his last years at Walebing, helped by his young sons John and Robert. 'The Squire of Walebing' and his family were noted for their hospitality to hundreds of guests. He died there on 19 March 1930 and was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery. His wife and their daughter and sons, and three sons of his first marriage, survived him. Sir Anthony Langlois Bruce Lefroy (1881-1958) and Sir Edward Henry Bruce Lefroy (1887-1966) were prominent as pastoralists and in many other aspects of Western Australian life.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly (compiler), History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • R. E. Cranfield, From Ireland to W.A. (Perth, 1960)
  • C. Cameron, F. F. B. Wittenoom, Pastoral Pioneer and Explorer (Perth, 1979)
  • C. T. Stannage (ed), A New History of Western Australia (Perth, 1981)
  • G. S. Reid and M. R. Oliver, The Premiers of Western Australia 1890-1982 (Perth, 1982)
  • Western Mail (Perth), 4 Apr 1919, 27 Mar 1930
  • West Australian, 11 Apr 1919.

Citation details

Catherine Cameron, 'Lefroy, Sir Henry Bruce (1853–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lefroy-sir-henry-bruce-7159/text12365, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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