Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McMaster, Sir Frederick Duncan (1873–1954)

by Keith O. Campbell

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

Sir Frederick Duncan McMaster (1873-1954), pastoralist, was born on 9 July 1873 at Surry Hills, Sydney, second son of Duncan McMaster, Scottish-born pastoralist from Cooma, and his native-born wife Christina, née Cox. On leaving Sydney Grammar School in 1891 he took over the management of Dalkeith station at Cassilis, purchased for him by his father, and in 1899 assumed ownership. On 20 November 1901 at the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Manilla, he married Muriel Evelyn Clair Sherlock, daughter of a Cooma pastoralist.

McMaster developed a reputation as a leader in pasture management and soil conservation, especially on the black-soil country of which Dalkeith was typical, based on judicious and conservative stocking and on the control of rabbits rather than on pasture improvement. He described his system as 'reserve stocking' as distinct from 'under-stocking'; it involved the practice of always having a reserve of natural pasture in each grazing paddock. A born experimenter and an amateur engineer, he actively sought and practised the most advanced scientific knowledge available.

At first McMaster continued to buy Merino rams from Tasmania, but soon introduced Boonoke ewes and rams bought from F. S. Falkiner & Sons Ltd. A notable studmaster, he bred the champion ram at the 1936 Sydney Sheep Show. He also had a pure-bred herd of Hereford cattle. He was a council-member and later vice-president of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association and of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, which he served in the beef-cattle section for many years, patron of the Standard Stock Dog Association and an honorary life-member of the Royal Agricultural Society of England from 1943. A keen tennis player until the age of 70, he was a director and trustee of the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association and president of the Sydney Lawn Tennis Club. He was also a vice-president of the Royal Empire Society and an honorary life-member of the English-Speaking Union. He belonged to the Australian and Australian Jockey clubs.

In an address to the Sheepbreeders' Association in 1929, Prime Minister Stanley (Viscount) Bruce challenged graziers to share with the government the burgeoning cost of rural research. A few weeks later McMaster, a foundation member of the State committee of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research from 1926, gave £20,000 to build an animal health research laboratory in the grounds of the University of Sydney, the Commonwealth government meeting the cost of staff and equipment through C.S.I.R. The F. D. McMaster Animal Health Laboratory was opened in August 1931 with (Sir) Ian Clunies Ross as its first director; it quickly earned a world-wide reputation as a centre of research, especially on internal and external parasites of sheep. McMaster also assisted in the provision of field facilities for the laboratory. He was knighted in 1934.

In November 1954 McMaster made a further gift of £50,000 to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to add a wing to the McMaster laboratory in memory of his son Ian Frederick, M.C., who in 1942 was killed in the battle of El Alamein. The McMaster generosity was also frequently demonstrated in less public ways: in 1930 he gave 500 stud rams to the State government to distribute to needy settlers. He often quoted:

We lose what we keep,
We have what we share
And what we have given
We find everywhere.

His contemporary Alan Tory described McMaster as 'an almost legendary figure whose mind and vision match his dominating physique … a figure of acknowledged authority who moves among his peers with a youthful curiosity and quiet assurance that the destiny of Australia rests upon the broad shoulders … of farmers, graziers and stud owners'. He was a man of action—in a sense a benevolent despot. He was also a generous host to the steady stream of visitors to his property, including members of the royal family, Davis Cup tennis players and other public figures.

McMaster died at Dalkeith on 28 November 1954 and was cremated after a service at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. His estate was valued for probate at £216,403 for eventual bequest to C.S.I.R.O. He was survived by his wife and unmarried daughter Thelma, who founded a Hereford stud at Dalkeith and managed the property until she died in 1981.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Tory, Harbour in Heaven (Syd, 1949)
  • Journal of the CSIR, 2, no 4, Nov 1929, p 193, 4, no 4, Nov 1931, p 201, 6, no 3, Aug 1933, p 214, 9, no 3, Aug 1936, p 239
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Dec 1931, p 1187, 16 June 1934, p 556, 16 Dec 1954, p 1489
  • Australian Journal of Science, 1, no 5, Apr 1939, p 142
  • Australian Veterinary Journal, 57, May 1981, p 249
  • Journal of the Soil Conservation Service of New South Wales, 11, no 1, Jan 1955, p 1
  • Farmer and Settler, 4 Dec 1941
  • Country Life, 5 Dec 1941, 3 Dec 1954
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26, 29 Nov 1954
  • CSIRO Archives (Canberra).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Keith O. Campbell, 'McMaster, Sir Frederick Duncan (1873–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcmaster-sir-frederick-duncan-708/text12915, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 12 December 2018.

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

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