Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lowrie, William (1857–1933)

by Alan W. Black

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

William Lowrie (1857-1933), agricultural educationist, was born on 18 October 1857 in Selkirkshire, Scotland, son of John Lowrie and his wife Christina, née Anderson. They lived on Clarilaw, one of the largest farms in Roxburghshire, where his father was a shepherd. After attending school at Blainslie, William worked for two years as a farm servant. He returned to school at St Boswell's and then proceeded to the University of Edinburgh (M.A., 1883), maintaining himself by teaching. In 1884 he won a Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland bursary to the same university to study agriculture and related sciences. He graduated B.Sc. in 1886 as university prizeman in mathematics with several first-class honours.

After lecturing in natural science and agriculture at Gordon's College, Aberdeen, Lowrie was appointed professor of agriculture and principal at Roseworthy Agricultural College, South Australia, in 1888. On arrival he also became a member of the Central Agricultural Bureau. His grasp of scientific principles and his practical approach to farming, as well as his formidable wit, soon won the respect of the rural community. More than once this support was mobilized when Lowrie offered to resign after his ministerial superior failed to endorse his recommendations. He was badgered by a succession of ministers who, according to one journalist, 'scarcely knew the difference between a nanny goat and a Hereford bull'. In 1897 he reported fruitlessly to the Victorian government on various aspects of agricultural education in that colony.

Lowrie resigned from Roseworthy in 1901 after a series of disputes with the government's superintendent of public buildings, architect C. E. Owen Smyth, over the college's requirements. This time, neither public support from farmers nor the offer of increased salary and greater autonomy could induce him to stay. For the next seven years he was director of Canterbury Agricultural College (later, Lincoln College), New Zealand, where he again won respect within both his college and the rural community.

In 1908 Lowrie became director of agriculture in Western Australia, where his brother-in-law (Sir) Newton Moore was premier. Shortly afterwards he declined the foundation chair in agriculture at the University of Sydney. In 1912, because of his knowledge of the parasitic enemies of plants, he was appointed director of agriculture in South Australia, a position from which he resigned two years later over disputes with the minister of agriculture about the department's reorganization. The Queensland minister of agriculture then tried to obtain his services but Lowrie took up farming and the breeding of Border Leicester sheep on Battunga, near Echunga. Here he remained until his death on 20 July 1933; he was buried at St George's cemetery, Magill.

Lowrie had married twice. On 24 June 1891 he wed Mary Longbottom, who died four months later from an ectopic pregnancy. At Napier, New Zealand, on 23 March 1903, he married her sister Alice who survived him. There were no children.

A stern Presbyterian who deplored waste and inefficiency, Lowrie was always a hard worker and he expected high standards of others. His research into and energetic advocacy of bare fallowing and the use of superphosphate did much to raise yields and establish wheatgrowing on a profitable basis in South Australia. Professors A. J. Perkins and A. E. V. Richardson revered him. A bust of Lowrie, sculptured by Marguerite Richardson, is at Roseworthy Agricultural College.

Select Bibliography

  • I. D. Blair, Life and Work at Canterbury College (Christchurch, NZ, 1956)
  • A. W. Black, Organizational Genesis and Development: A Study of Australian Agricultural Colleges (Brisb, 1976)
  • J. Daniels (ed), Roseworthy Agricultural College: A Century of Service (Roseworthy, 1983)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1914, p 119, 2564
  • Observer (Adelaide), 26 Nov 1887
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 Dec 1887, 22 July 1933
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 13 Nov 1909
  • G. C. and D. P. Vaudrey, Memorabilia of the Rev William Longbottom and Descendants in Australia (State Library of South Australia)
  • PRG 30/5/17, Way letters, 1913 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Alan W. Black, 'Lowrie, William (1857–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lowrie-william-7253/text12567, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 27 November 2014.

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

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