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Frederic Augustus Wingfield Gisborne (1860–1934)

by Michael Roe

This article was published:

Frederic Augustus Wingfield Gisborne (1860-1934), conservative ideologue, was born on 23 July 1860 in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), of unknown parentage and possibly mixed race. Apparently Frederic had some education at an English superior school before migrating to Australia about 1880. He later spoke of being an outback worker in Queensland, before settling in Tasmania. From 1889 he taught in the colony's education department, and on 9 July 1891 at St Paul's Church of England, East Devonport, married Eva Grace Young. The marriage was childless. Gisborne rose to become headmaster of Castle Forbes Bay school from July 1899. He found but little satisfaction in teaching, and developed interests in orcharding, mining and writing. Mining led to ownership of a property in the Forth valley, still known (especially to bushwalkers) as 'Gisborne's'.

Having resigned from the education service in 1907, he established a poultry farm at New Town, Hobart. Gisborne had already published in respected journals: perhaps his most impressive essays were written by 1912, on various aspects of economic activity in Tasmania. A steadier and probably more congenial outlet came to be the London journal Empire Review. By May 1910 the Review tagged Gisborne as 'our Special Correspondent to the Commonwealth', and in that guise he wrote many essays over following years. Bewailing especially the strength of trade unions and the Labor Party, and the general effect of Federation, they presented Australia in bleak mode. Britain, too, Gisborne saw as undermined by 'welfareism', and the liberal radicalism sustained by Celtic nationalists rather than true-blue Britons. He offered a general critique of democracy, seeing hope for the future only in eugenic improvement of the race. His eugenics had the relative novelty of including advocacy of euthanasia. Another of his proposals for countering democracy's evils was that all aspirant politicians undergo academic training in political science.

Gisborne at first welcomed World War I as promising renovation of the Australian spirit, but then became ever more rancorous towards anti-conscription Labor, and more distressed by the impoverishment of rural industry—to him the sole source of true national wealth. The 1920s victories of the Nationalists and, still more, the Country parties would seem to have promised to please Gisborne, but his pessimism went too deep. In these years, however, he published across a remarkably wide field: for the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy and Australian Quarterly at home; for the Edinburgh Review, National Review, English Review and Quarterly Review in Britain. His thrust remained much as in earlier years, if with more extreme touches—'a kind of Imperial Fascisti movement' was one of his prescriptions, working in accord with 'a race of super-men'. In 1928 Longmans Green published his Democracy on Trial, a collection of characteristic essays, including support for Bacon over Shakespeare as author of the plays.

All the while Gisborne continued on his poultry farm, while also an orchardist on Bruny Island. He upheld Tasmania's case for secession from the Commonwealth, associating in this with the publicist Leslie Norman. In 1929 he retired to St Helen's, on Tasmania's east coast, publishing until near his death on 24 July 1934. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Roe, ‘F. A. W. Gisborne (1860-1934) Global Conservative, Tasmanian Resident’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 47, no 3, 2000, p 141
  • T. Rowse, Australian Liberalism and National Character (Melb, 1978).

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Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Gisborne, Frederic Augustus Wingfield (1860–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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