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Sutton, George Lowe (1872–1964)

by R. J. Moir

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

George Lowe Sutton (1872-1964), agricultural scientist, was born on 23 October 1872 at Everton, Lancashire, England, son of Henry Hall Sutton, shipping agent, and his wife Ellen, née Lowe. George's widowed mother took him to New South Wales in 1882 where he attended Fort Street Model and Sydney Boys' High schools, on scholarships, and Sydney Technical College. He then went dairy-farming at Moorebank and worked in Queensland. In 1900 he was appointed experimentalist and later lecturer in agronomy at Hawkesbury Agricultural College where he became a friend of William Farrer. At Glenfield on 22 April 1896 Sutton had married English-born Ada Alice Everington; they were to have four daughters and two sons.

In 1905 Sutton opened and managed an experimental farm at Cowra to further the wheat-breeding work of the Department of Agriculture. After Farrer's death in 1906, Sutton took charge of wheat-breeding in New South Wales and of the experimental farms at Cowra and Coolabah. His developmental work in low rainfall areas led (Sir) James Mitchell, State minister for lands and agriculture, to appoint him agricultural commissioner for the Western Australian wheat belt. Sutton began duties in Perth in 1911. Bespectacled and serious, if at times a long-winded speaker, he was a dedicated administrator whose ideas had influence in political, industrial and community circles. He developed morale in his department, although his dominant personality and the government's periods of financial austerity caused some friction. The demand for advice and technical resources increased and Sutton was hard pressed to meet it. While needing highly qualified staff, it was not until 1921 when he became director of agriculture that he could implement a policy of government cadetships for undergraduates in agriculture at the University of Western Australia.

Severe droughts after 1911 had reduced seed wheat to critical levels and the responsibility for overcoming the situation fell upon Sutton. He converted State 'model' farms into experimental ones with the task of supplying commercial quantities of pure variety seed wheat and other crops to farmers; field days and public demonstrations were also held. Sutton continued his breeding work, using early generation crossbred material from New South Wales and emphasizing baking and milling quality, yield, resistance to disease and environmental suitability. In 1918 he released the Nabawa variety. Its qualities, particularly rust resistance, made it Australia's premier wheat until the 1930s when it was replaced by Bencubbin. Although Sutton's insistence on quality was not always appreciated because of inverse yield considerations, it eventually led to the formation of a national register of wheat varieties in 1927.

He endeavoured to modify the wheat selling system. The 'Fair Average Quality' standard used in Australia was based on samples from each State which were incorporated into a mixed bushel under supervision by State chambers of commerce. Sutton 'struck' the standard in Western Australia for many years. The commercial hiatus between harvest and striking of the yearly F.A.Q. standard was overcome by Western Australian legislation in 1935 which established the grade, 'W.A. Standard White'; it went further than the single bushel weight attribute of F.A.Q.

As early as 1914 Sutton had chaired a committee which reported on bulk handling of grain at farm, rail and port depots: it recommended that a standards board be established and that wheat be graded for export. A subsequent report in 1932 saw the formation of the Grain Pool of Western Australia and Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd.

Sutton wrote on a wide variety of topics: many of his seventy papers in the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales also appeared in the country press; he published over 110 papers in the Journal of the Department of Agriculture of Western Australia and in departmental bulletins; he conducted a large correspondence with farmers and spoke on radio. In 1952 he published Comes the Harvest.

A firm yet gentle father who managed his income frugally, Sutton was raised as a Wesleyan; he ceased being a churchgoer, but remained a teetotaller. Reading, carpentry, gardening, photography, walking and vinegar-making occupied his leisure. He belonged to the State committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, presided over the Royal Society of Western Australia, and was a fellow of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science.

In 1937, the year of his retirement, Sutton received an honorary doctorate of science in agriculture from the University of Western Australia; in 1951 he was appointed C.M.G.; in 1959 the flour millers and bakers of Western Australia gave him £815 for 'championing the improvement of Australian wheat, flour and bread'. Predeceased by his wife (d.1960), he died on 11 January 1964 in Royal Perth Hospital and was buried in the Methodist section of Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulk Handling of Grain Advisory Board (Western Australia), Report (Perth, 1914)
  • Department of Works and Labour (Western Australia), Bulk Handling of Wheat: Reports (Perth, 1932)
  • A. R. Callaghan and A. J. Millington, The Wheat Industry in Australia (Syd, 1956)
  • L. Hunt (ed), Westralian Portraits (Perth, 1979)
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 21 Jan 1962
  • West Australian, 23 Feb 1963
  • Countryman (Perth), 5 Feb 1959, 16 Jan 1964
  • bibliography of G. L. Sutton (Library of Western Australian Dept of Agriculture)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

R. J. Moir, 'Sutton, George Lowe (1872–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sutton-george-lowe-8720/text15267, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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