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Alfred Roy Le Messurier (1886–1946)

by Brian Wimborne

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Frederick Neill Le Messurier

Alfred Roy Le Messurier (1886-1946), company director, and Frederick Neill Le Messurier (1891-1966), paediatrician, were born on 19 February 1886 and 12 January 1891 at Semaphore, Adelaide, third and fifth surviving children of South Australian-born parents Alfred Le Messurier, agent, and his wife, Jane Sinclair, née Neill. Both boys were educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter. At 16 Roy entered his father's shipping agency, A. & E. Le Messurier, where he specialized in importing timber from Tasmania for local furniture-makers and developed it into a significant enterprise. He later joined Thorold Wilhelm Gunnersen, a Melbourne-based importer of Baltic and North American softwoods. In 1915 they formed Gunnersen Le Messurier Ltd, an indent agency arranging direct sales from suppliers to South Australian clients for an agreed commission. Until 1920 the company had no premises; as managing director, Le Messurier operated from the offices of the family firm. At St Bede's Anglican Church, Semaphore, on 17 April 1912 he had married Margaret Galway Saunders.

Despite World War I, Gunnersen Le Messurier grew steadily. Demand for timber from South Australia's fledgling car industry, as well as the cooperage, building and furniture trades, provided scope for Le Messurier who, by 1921, was the main shareholder in his father's company. He imported quality timbers, such as Tasmanian oak, blackwood, sassafras, King Billy pine and beech. To supply Baltic pine to Melbourne, he helped to found (1925) Alstergren Pty Ltd, brokers and agents.

In July 1926 Le Messurier bought shares in Mathias & Co., furniture-makers, and in Lloyd's Timber Mills Ltd; both became important clients of Gunnersen Le Messurier Ltd. That year he backed a new retail timber merchant, Wadlow Ltd. Le Messurier also funded promising young timbermen and was described by an associate as 'the best picker of men he had ever met'. In 1927 he helped Norman Moore to buy Rosenfeld & Co. (South Australia) Ltd and a few months later assisted in the establishment of Cullity Timbers Ltd, Perth. He invested in South Australian and Western Australian salvage companies, and founded Moore Le Messurier Pty Ltd in Sydney in 1932.

On his father's death in 1927, Le Messurier had succeeded him as chairman, a position he retained for life. By the age of 41 he was a formidable figure in the timber industry. Although the sale of Tasmanian wood was the main source of Gunnersen Le Messurier's prosperity in the late 1930s, the import of North American oregon and hemlock, and New Zealand white pine, kauri pine and rimu also proved profitable. During World War II, when American hemlock was unavailable, Le Messurier investigated the use of locally grown Pinus radiata. With plywood, too, in short supply, he helped to establish Tasmanian Plywood Mills and Westralian Plywoods.

Outside office hours, Le Messurier led a comfortable but unostentatious life. He liked to mix work with relaxation and many of his business associates were his closest friends. As a young man he had enjoyed cricket and lacrosse; in addition, he played football for Port Adelaide and North Adelaide, and was vice-captain of the latter team in 1911 and 1913. In 1908 he had represented South Australia at an interstate Australian Rules football carnival held in Melbourne. Survived by his wife, and by three of his five sons, he died of cancer on 5 October 1946 at his Fitzroy home and was buried in Cheltenham cemetery; his estate was sworn for probate at £61,254. At St Mark's College, University of Adelaide, a bursary and a room are named after him.

Unlike his elder brother who was not scholastically minded, Frederick was a fine all-round student at St Peter's. A lieutenant in the cadets, a member of the debating society, a prefect (1907-08) and school captain (1908), he represented the school in athletics and skippered its football and cricket teams. He was Farrell scholar in 1905 and Young exhibitioner in 1908. Le Messurier played for the North Adelaide Football Club in 1908-10 and 1913-14. Studying medicine at the University of Adelaide, he graduated with first-class honours (M.B., B.S., 1913; M.D., 1920) and became a resident medical officer at the (Royal) Adelaide Hospital.

On 7 October 1914 Le Messurier was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. He served at Gallipoli and in Egypt before joining the 12th Field Ambulance on the Western Front in March 1917. East of Hamel, France, on 8-10 August 1918 he evacuated wounded soldiers while under fire and won the Distinguished Service Order. Next month he was promoted temporary lieutenant colonel and placed in command of the field ambulance. Mentioned in dispatches, he returned to Adelaide where his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 17 April 1919.

Le Messurier accepted a post as a resident medical officer at the Children's Hospital, Melbourne, and developed an interest in paediatrics. At the chapel of his old school on 9 November 1920 he married Frieda Gwendoline James with Anglican rites. In 1922 he joined the staff of Mareeba Babies' Hospital, Adelaide, and later became an honorary medical officer. Ward 6A was to be named after him. He was honorary assistant-physician (from 1924) and honorary physician (1926-47) at Adelaide Children's Hospital; a member of the hospital's board, he served as deputy-president in 1947-58.

In the mid-1920s Le Messurier had observed the use of lactic-acid milk feeding at Washington University, St Louis, United States of America, a process which involved scalding cows' milk and adding a solution of glucose and lactic acid to make the milk more sterile and digestible for infants. He introduced the practice in South Australia and popularized it. Specializing as a paediatrician, he took particular interest in parent education, infant feeding and the management of pre-school children. He retained a connexion with St Peter's as its school doctor (1927-61). At the University of Adelaide he lectured (from 1935) on the medical diseases of children and was an occasional demonstrator in anatomy.

Mobilized in 1940, Le Messurier began full-time duty in command of the 105th Australian General Hospital, Adelaide, in December 1941. He was promoted temporary colonel in October 1942. His task was to establish the unit and supervise the construction of what later became the Repatriation General Hospital, Springbank (Daw Park). His personal contacts, including members of his family, were useful in obtaining building materials for the hospital, beyond those provided under contract, and his efforts and sense of purpose led to the successful completion of the project. He remained in command of the hospital until 1946. In an attempt to make the R.G.H. self-sufficient and to provide a form of therapy, staff and patients grew food and raised animals. Among his other achievements were the enclosure of eight sunrooms for the wards, and the construction of a bowling-green, bathing-box and canteen.

Le Messurier was a stocky man, widely known as Freddy and sometimes irreverently as 'Freddo the Frog'. Gifted with a keen sense of humour, he inspired confidence, and could be considerate and kind. Yet, he remained a strong disciplinarian, obsessed with detail and reluctant to delegate. Some thought him difficult and 'stuffed up with his own importance'. Despite being considered petty and pernickety, he was usually fair, reasonable and popular. Survived by his only son, Le Messurier died on 20 May 1966 in Calvary Hospital, North Adelaide, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $94,994.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Barbalet, The Adelaide Children's Hospital, 1876-1976 (Adel, 1975)
  • J. Tregenza, Le Messuriers of Port Adelaide (Adel, 1991)
  • P. Last, The Repat (Adel, 1994)
  • University of Adelaide, Calendar, 1914, 1921, 1926
  • St Peter's College Magazine, May, Aug, Dec 1908, 1909, Dec 1961
  • Australian Timber Journal, Oct 1946
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 1 Oct 1966
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 21 May 1966
  • University of Adelaide, staff records
  • private information.

Citation details

Brian Wimborne, 'Le Messurier, Alfred Roy (1886–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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