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Frank Ellis (1886–1964)

by Anthony Dare

This article was published:

Frank Ellis (1886-1964), educationist, was born on 24 February 1886 in Adelaide, son of Joseph Ellis, collector, and his wife Bertha, née Tapson. Frank attended state primary schools and Prince Alfred College where he was dux; a Hartley studentship (1903) took him to the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, and to the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1907; B.A., 1911; B.E., M.A., 1913). While he was studying, he successively worked as a junior engineer with the Municipal Tramways Trust, an assistant-lecturer at the School of Mines and an instructor in the department of mechanical engineering, School of Mines, Charters Towers, Queensland.

At Stow Memorial Church, Adelaide, on 14 January 1911 Ellis married Dora Stephens with Congregational forms. After serving as head (1912-17) of the department of engineering at the Bendigo School of Mines, Victoria, he was superintendent (1918-27) of technical education in Tasmania where he did much to reorganize courses and teaching.

In 1927 Ellis was appointed principal of the Working Men's College, Melbourne (Melbourne Technical College from 1934). He presided over many changes and developments during an eventful twenty-five years. His four major achievements were the establishment (1943) of fellowship diploma courses, the expansion of the college through ten major building projects, the extension of business and management studies, and a campaign to have the college recognized as the pre-eminent technological institution in Victoria.

Ellis toured the United States of America in 1939-40 on behalf of the Commonwealth government to buy precision tool-making and gauge-making equipment. His impressions of American institutes of technology provided a catalyst to his thinking about the future status of technical education. On his return, he argued eloquently that the State's technical education system should receive greater recognition and pressed for complete autonomy from the Education Department. In 1947 he almost succeeded in having the college chosen as the nucleus of a proposed university-level institute of technology (a scheme that failed, owing partly to the defeat of the Cain Labor government). He had joined Malcolm Moore and (Sir) John Storey in a campaign conducted through the Institute of Industrial Management, Australia, to promote a postwar nation that would be self-sufficient in industrial production. Ellis expressed his views in an address to the institute, delivered on 5 December 1944 and published as Education for Industry. He retired in 1952 and was appointed M.B.E. that year. As a specialist in vocational training, he visited Egypt in 1953-54 under the auspices of the International Labour Organization's technical assistance programme.

Small and sharp featured, with an expression that sparkled with good humour, Ellis was a man of immense charm and persuasive ability. To his staff, he was 'a real gentleman' who brought a breadth of vision to the rather narrow world of machine shops, drawing offices and engineering laboratories. He belonged to the Wallaby Club, and enjoyed walking and tennis. Survived by his three daughters, he died on 29 March 1964 at Sandringham, Melbourne, and was cremated. E. P. Eltham referred to him as 'the outstanding figure in technical education in Victoria'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • A. J. Dare, 'Melbourne Technical College and the Proposed Institute of Technology', in Melbourne Studies in Education, 1977, S. Murray-Smith ed (Melb, 1977)
  • S. Murray-Smith and A. J. Dare, The Tech (Melb, 1987)
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 Mar 1964
  • Ellis papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • oral history archives and Ellis personal file (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University Archives).

Citation details

Anthony Dare, 'Ellis, Frank (1886–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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