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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gellatly, Francis Mephan (1872–1919)

by D. I. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Francis Mephan Gellatly (1872-1919), journalist and publicist, was born on 13 November 1872 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest son of James Gellatly, a London-born lithographer, and his Scottish wife Christian née Ferguson. He was educated at the Church of England Grammar School, Ballarat, and at The King's School, Parramatta, New South Wales.

In 1891 Gellatly joined the New South Wales Forestry Department as a cadet working in the Gosford district. Within twelve months he resigned to work on the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1896, under the pseudonym 'Yarrowee', he published a slight novel, Back from the jaws of death, in which he examined injustice within the legal system as a result of 'maladministration of the Law, the perversity of judges, or the stolidity of juries'. He was, for a short period, a member of the actuarial staff of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. In 1912 he travelled abroad to study economic and financial journalism.

As financial editor of the Herald from 1905, Gellatly frequently warned a gullible public against wild-cat financial ventures. In World War I he used his columns to explain economic and legal problems arising from transactions with former overseas trading partners. Later, he provided concise explanations of wartime legislation, examined the financial proposals of the government and, in attempts to whip up support for war loans, engaged in jingoistic language which was in marked contrast to the lack-lustre prose of his commercial reports.

In a short series of articles published in 1917 in the Trustees' Quarterly Review, Gellatly supported the government's financial policies and argued that inflation was inescapable in time of war; its control should be tackled in the post-war era. He also condemned widespread industrial unrest and believed that industrial legislation should bear equally upon all parties. From 1908 he studied law part-time at the University of Sydney (LL.B., 1912; LL.D., 1916). Although admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 22 November 1912, he never practised. He was also vice-president of the New South Wales Institute of Journalists, chairman of the New South Wales Journalists' Board of Advice (1917-1918) and a member of the War Savings Council.

In April 1918 Gellatly, whom W. M. Hughes often consulted on financial matters, agreed to become director of the proposed Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry and, in June, he was also appointed to the Commonwealth Advisory Council of Science and Industry. His appointment as director met with some criticism: his education and training scarcely fitted him to head a scientific institution, while Hughes's patronage won him few friends among the Labor Party.

Although enabling legislation was not enacted during his lifetime, Gellatly took up duty on 1 June and for the next fifteen months worked tirelessly to establish the institute. More importantly, with great tact he set out to win over those State politicians and scientists who felt that the organization would be a threat: to that end, he travelled throughout Australia in a successful campaign. An early venture was to publish a monthly journal, Science and Industry. It was said of Gellatly that 'he addressed himself to the task assigned to him with characteristic zeal and energy … and gave promise of great usefulness in his new sphere'.

On 24 September 1919 Gellatly died of pneumonic influenza at his home at Neutral Bay and was buried with Presbyterian forms in the Congregational section of Gore Hill cemetery, Sydney. He was survived by his wife Agnes Mary, née Jones, whom he had married at North Sydney on 30 March 1899, and by two sons and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Currie and J. Graham, The Origins of CSIRO (Melb, 1966)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1917-19, pp 3726, 4295, 11547, 11552, 11562, 11572, 11577, 12766
  • Science and Industry, 1 (1919), no 6, p 1
  • Queensland Trustees Ltd, Trustees' Quarterly Review, Oct 1919
  • Sydney Mail, 29 Apr 1899
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23, 25 Sept 1916, 26 Apr, 29, 30 May, 8 Aug, 30 Dec 1918, 24, 25, 26 Sept 1919
  • Advisory Council Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry, Minutes, (CSIRO Archives, Canberra).

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Gellatly, Francis Mephan (1872–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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