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Archibald Colquhoun Fraser (1832–1896)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published:

Archibald Colquhoun Fraser (1832-1896), civil servant, was born at Stirling, Scotland, son of Andrew Fraser (d.1884), lieutenant-colonel in the Indian army, and his wife Isabella, née Colquhoun. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, but after an accident abandoned an army career. He attended the University of Edinburgh and in 1851 passed the Scottish law examination. In 1852 he arrived in Melbourne and joined the Victorian civil service. Early in 1854 he went to Sydney where he worked as a clerk and on 11 December joined the New South Wales immigration office at £191 a year. On 14 May 1857 he transferred to the crown law office and by 1 June 1860 had become second clerk to the crown solicitor in charge of criminal business with a salary of £350. On 1 January 1868 he was appointed clerk of the peace for County Cumberland and in 1870 for the whole colony at a salary of £600. In 1881 he was admitted as a solicitor but declined appointment as one of the first stipendiary magistrates in Sydney. From 1 April 1887 to June 1896 he was under-secretary for justice commencing on £960 a year.

Fraser was unusual in allowing his subordinates to be original in their work. At the crown law office his reorganization of Petty Sessions assured gentle treatment for 'certain old and valued officers'. He prepared the Criminal Law and Evidence Amendment Act, 1891, which, inter alia, introduced more lenient treatment for attempted suicide. His administration emerged quite favourably from the inquiry into the civil service in 1888-92 and from the royal commission of 1895.

Fraser was a director of the Civil Service Building Society from its formation in 1874 and was credited with the introduction of the 1884 civil service bill which was welcomed by the service before amendment in parliament; from 1 January 1885 to 31 December 1887 he was a member of the Civil Service Board. Reappointed in October 1891, he was chairman in 1895-96. He was active and prescient on the board and clashed with the first chairman, Geoffrey Eagar, over defining the limits of the board's authority. Fraser's extensive knowledge of the civil service aided the 1895 royal commission when he analysed the weaknesses of the 1884 Act; his ideas anticipated much of the 1895 Public Service Act which aimed at reform and an end to ministerial patronage. In 1896 although his mental and physical abilities were unimpaired Fraser was a victim of the ruthless retrenchment of the Public Service Board. His enforced retirement caused an important debate in the Legislative Council on the powers of the board and the significance of the 1895 Act. He took up a partnership as a solicitor but died aged 64 on 24 October 1896 after a stroke. He was buried in the Church of England cemetery, Waverley, predeceased by his first wife Helen Maria, née Edson, whom he had married at Sydney in 1866. He was survived by two sons and three daughters, and by his second wife Hope, née McLeod, whom he had married at Melbourne in 1885. His elder son, Archibald Colquhoun (b.1868), was in 1896 clerk of Petty Sessions at Penrith.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1896
  • Town and Country Journal, 9 Feb 1889
  • Evening News (Sydney), 26 Oct 1896
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26, 27 Oct 1896
  • Civil Service Board minutes (State Records New South Wales)
  • Department of Justice papers, bundle 7722 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Fraser, Archibald Colquhoun (1832–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Stirling, Stirlingshire, Scotland


24 October, 1896 (aged ~ 64)
New South Wales, Australia

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