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McDougall, Frank Lidgett (1884–1958)

by Alfred Stirling

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

Frank Lidgett McDougall (1884-1958), public servant and economist, was born on 16 April 1884 at Greenwich, Kent, England, third son of (Sir) John McDougall, miller and later chairman of the London County Council, and his second wife Ellen Mary, née Lidgett. Educated at Blackheath Proprietary School and the University of Darmstadt, Germany, he spent two years in South Africa on an uncle's wattle farm.

At 25 McDougall joined his half-brothers and sisters in South Australia where he took up a fruit block at Renmark. On 4 September 1915 in Adelaide he married Madeline Joyce, sister of F. M. Cutlack. In May he had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the 27th Battalion in September and served in Egypt and France with the 1st Anzac Cyclist Battalion until late 1918.

Back in Australia Captain McDougall joined the board of the Australian Dried Fruits Association in which he had long been active. In 1922 he went to Britain with W. B. Chaffey and C. E. D. Meares to seek a larger share of the British dried fruit market, and to promote their cause through 'judicious propaganda'. This was to be McDougall's forte. From 1923 he was closely associated with Prime Minister S. M. (Viscount) Bruce who encouraged his advice and later observed that McDougall 'brings me a new idea every morning'. Bruce summoned him back to the Prime Minister's Department in Melbourne in 1924, then arranged for him to return in January 1925 as part-time secretary of the London agency of the Dried Fruits Control Board with the direction: 'in your more uplifted moments you can call yourself the confidential representative of the Australian Prime Minister, when less inflated a secret service agent!'

In England McDougall cultivated politicians of all parties and leading newspaper editors. He wrote Sheltered Markets (1925) and many pamphlets and articles, often anonymous, for The Times and Manchester Guardian. McDougall represented both the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, maintaining constant correspondence with his close friend (Sir) David Rivett and actively establishing interchange of scientific ideas and personnel. He attended the Imperial Conference of 1923, the Imperial Economic Committee (1926) and the Ottawa Conference (1932), as a diligent apostle of Imperial preference. In 1926 he was appointed C.M.G.

A member of the Empire Marketing Board in 1926-32, during the Depression he preached that governments should increase food consumption and improve diets and that Australia should produce more food to feed the hungry. At the International Economic Conference in Geneva in 1927 and as a member of its economic consultative committee he extended his horizons, stressing the need to reactivate trade in Europe and substitute 'a reasonably fat Germany for a desperately lean one'. McDougall was a regular adviser to Australian delegations at the League of Nations in Geneva from 1928 until its demise in 1940. At the 1935 assembly Bruce and McDougall evolved the slogan 'Marry health and agriculture', promoted so effectively by Bruce that a permanent committee (including McDougall) was set up to report back to the assembly on nutrition in relation to health and economics.

In 1941-42 he worked with Australian economic missions in Washington, won the support of Eleanor Roosevelt and dined at the White House with the president and Harry Hopkins. McDougall was a member of the Australian delegation to the Hot Springs (Virginia) Conference, summoned by Roosevelt early in 1943, that laid the foundations of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, set up in Rome after World War II. McDougall worked increasingly for F.A.O.: though he could have been its director-general he preferred always to work through others, as a counsellor. He was its liaison officer with the United Nations and worked closely with Sir John (Lord) Boyd-Orr and Dag Hammarskjöld.

McDougall was extremely vigorous, a lifelong golfer and mountain walker, a host who enjoyed good company, good wine and good food. Beneath the astringent surface of his quick, dry wit there was a warm humanity. While not conventionally religious, as an Anglican he retained, along with profound beliefs, an exceptional memory for the Cranmer Prayer Book and King James Bible. Their language often appeared in his speeches and memoranda, and sometimes also in Bruce's. The British diplomat Lord Gladwyn testified to 'his ability to recite all the Collects, an accomplishment equalled by few other economists'.

McDougall died from a burst appendix on 15 February 1958 in Rome, and was buried near the poet Shelley in the Protestant cemetery. A son and daughter survived him. There is a portrait in the 'Australia' room of F.A.O.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Hill, Water Into Gold (Melb, 1937)
  • C. Edwards, Bruce of Melbourne (Lond, 1965)
  • The Memoirs of Lord Gladwyn (Lond, 1972)
  • A. Stirling, On the Fringe of Diplomacy (Melb, 1973)
  • A. Stirling, Lord Bruce (Melb, 1974)
  • R. Rivett, David Rivett (Melb, 1976)
  • P. G. Edwards, Prime Ministers and Diplomats (Melb, 1983)
  • W. J. Hudson and W. Way, Letters From a ‘Secret Service Agent’ (Canb, 1985)
  • Australian Dried Fruits Assn minutes (Melbourne).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alfred Stirling, 'McDougall, Frank Lidgett (1884–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcdougall-frank-lidgett-689/text12753, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 November 2018.

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

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