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Sir Joseph Francis (Frank) Ledger (1899–1993)

by Patrick Cornish

This article was published:

Sir Joseph Francis (Frank) Ledger (1899–1993), engineer, industrialist, and philanthropist, was born on 29 October 1899 at East Perth, Western Australia, third of nine children of English-born parents Edson Ledger, iron founder and engineer, and his wife Annie Francis, née Sumner. Frank attended Mount Lawley Primary and Perth Boys’ schools; at fourteen he was apprenticed to his father and uncle Joseph, proprietors of the engineering firm J. and E. Ledger. The partnership had prospered during the Western Australian gold boom of the 1890s, supplying pipes to take water from Perth to Kalgoorlie. He worked a forty-eight hour week for seven shillings and sixpence at the premises in Pier Street, Perth. His apprenticeship included general engineering, blacksmithing, and founding.

On 4 May 1918 Ledger enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. World War I ended while he was training in Victoria as an air mechanic in the Australian Flying Corps and he was discharged from the AIF on 24 December in Perth. While attending night classes at Perth Technical School, he worked in Perth and the country gaining broad experience in different sorts of engineering, including motor vehicles. On 10 March 1923 he married Gladys Muriel Lyons (d. 1981) at Trinity Congregational Church, Perth.

Ledger’s role in the family business grew after Joe died in 1924. Alarmed by the impact of the Depression, he diversified into the manufacture of print machinery, brickmaking, and pottery as well as developing a sales arm, extending the premises, and purchasing more land. In September the firm was incorporated as a company. By the time his father died in 1940, he was running the company and would do so until 1965, when it was sold to an English firm, Mitchell Cotts.

In 1943 Ledger was the instigator and inaugural president of the Institute of Foundrymen, which was formed to raise standards and promote new techniques in metallurgy. He was also involved in the Metropolitan Ironmaster’s Association (president 1938–48), the West Australian Chamber of Manufactures (president 1946–49), the Associated Chamber of Manufactures (vice-president 1949), and the Western Australian Employers Federation (1957–60; president 1958); he was a board member of the State Electricity Commission (1949–54).

Part of a group who encouraged the future premier (Sir) Charles Court to stand for parliament, Ledger strongly supported industrial development to foster economic growth in the State. During the 1963 royal visit he was knighted for his services to industry and in 1964 he led Western Australia’s component of a national trade delegation to Asia. Between 1966 and 1970 he chaired the State government’s Industries Advisory Committee. He also promoted agricultural development, ranging from the Ord River scheme in the far north, to opening up new farming lands near Esperance in the south of the State.

Having played for both the Perth and East Perth football clubs in his youth, Ledger was vice-president of the East Perth Football Club (1936–41). He was a member of the Western Australian Trotting Association, serving as vice-president (1966–69) and president (1969–77), and he was inaugural chairman of the Australian Harness Racing Council (1974–76). Under his leadership the WATA redeveloped its racecourse at Gloucester Park, constructing grandstands along the home straight and making significant improvements to the public amenities.

During his final years Sir Frank became almost penniless amidst controversy over the management of his estate. As his health deteriorated his grandson Kim took over the running of his affairs and bought back the family company, renaming it Ledger Engineering. It later went into receivership and Ledger’s estate was in debt at the time of his death. Survived by his two daughters, he died at Applecross, Perth, on 8 April 1993, and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery; a son had predeceased him. A great-grandson, Heath Ledger (1979–2008), became an internationally famous actor. The Sir Frank Ledger Stand at Gloucester Park, opened in 1976, recognised his contribution to harness racing. The Sir Frank Ledger Charitable Trust, established in 1971, provides financial support to benefit needy young people. A scholarship at the University of Western Australia Business School is named after him.

Research edited by Kylie Carman-Brown

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Former WATA President Dies.' Westrot (Western Australian Trotting Association). May 1963, 16.

  • Ledger, Sir Frank. Interview by Christine Shervington, 1982. State Library of Western Australia (Audio)

  • National Archives of Australia. B2455

  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject

  • Taylor, Paige. ‘The History of Ledger’s Bottom Line.’ Australian, 15 March 2008, 6

  • ‘Vale Sir Frank Ledger.’ CCI Business Report (Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia). April 1993, 5

  • Wellington, Angela. ‘Knight Gave His Life to WA.’ West Australian (Perth), 10 April 1993, 61.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Patrick Cornish, 'Ledger, Sir Joseph Francis (Frank) (1899–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2017, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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