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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Livingstone-Learmonth, Frederick Valiant (1862–1945)

by John Atchison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Frederick Valiant Cotton Livingstone-Learmonth (1862-1945), superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Co. and soldier, was born on 6 June 1862 at Ercildoun, near Ballarat, Victoria, third son of Thomas Learmonth and his first wife Louisa Maria, daughter of Major General Sir Thomas Valiant. The family returned to Scotland in 1873 and after attending Westminster School, London, Frederick graduated M.A. from Pembroke College, Cambridge. Two years on the Continent made him proficient in French and German. In 1883 he returned to Australia and managed Bringagee, his father's station on the Murrumbidgee River, and for many years he controlled Thomas Learmonth's Australasian interests. He went to Greece in 1897, acting as The Times correspondent during the Graeco-Turkish war and touring Turkey, Greece and Russia.

On the outbreak of the South African War Learmonth embarked as a corporal with the 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, fought at Osfontein and Driefontein and took part in the advance to Pretoria under Lieutenant-Colonel De Lisle. He saw action in the battle of Diamond Hill, and in the Orange Free State and Cape Colony. He was promoted lieutenant, awarded the Distinguished Service Order for excellence in the field and mentioned in dispatches.

On 31 October 1901, at St Mary's Anglican Church, North Melbourne, Learmonth, using the name Livingstone-Learmonth, married Rin Aille Eidil Marie, daughter of Canon Joseph Carlisle, rector of St Mary's. Next April the Australian Agricultural Co. asked Jesse Gregson, its superintendent, to nominate his successor and Livingstone-Learmonth was given a trial appointment. At Newcastle, New South Wales, he worked as Gregson's assistant until the latter's departure in 1905. He then began one year as acting general superintendent at £1250, preparatory to a seven-year term.

Hebburn, an A.A. Co. colliery, had begun yielding profits in 1903 and, with Brown Bros' Pelaw Main mine, it pioneered coal-cutting machines, inaugurating a new era in both extraction and industrial relations. By 1907 the Vend, a cartel which regulated prices and shared the trade between Newcastle coal proprietors, was operating. Livingstone-Learmonth spearheaded the confrontation leading to the disastrous strikes of 1909: he was secretary to the Associated Northern Collieries and secretary and, later, chairman of the Hunter River District Colliery Proprietors' Defence Association, and his conservatism and militancy contributed to deadlocked negotiations with the union leader, Peter Bowling. The company ultimately withdrew from coal-mining in 1914-16.

A. A. Co. pastoral operations were mainly at Warrah where George Fairbairn's skilled management eased Livingstone-Learmonth's burden. The extension of wire netting and formation of a Border Leicester stud confirmed Warrah's prosperity. 'Forced by the iniquitous principle of resumption which is so popular under our ultra democratic government', Livingstone-Learmonth advised a voluntary Willow Tree subdivision. When the State government proclaimed the Warrah Settlement Purchase Area, he protested at a 'distinct breach of faith', only to be told of a change in policy and a new bill. He was disappointed at a Court of Appeal's award in 1911 for the 45,006 acres (18,213 ha) resumed. He protested strongly against the 'crushing' 1910 Federal land tax.

To offset these losses he recommended purchase of Corona, a first-class sheep station west of Longreach, Queensland, belonging to his family's Groongal Pastoral Co. This 1911 purchase presaged a pattern of purchase and lease throughout northern and Western Australia.

His wife's sudden death in 1912 and Labor's decision to open a state-owned coal-mine confirmed Livingstone-Learmonth's decision not to continue a work-load which, though congenial, had left him 'utterly worn out and almost broken down'. He resigned on 31 March and moved his family to England. Directorships in the A.A. Co., Peel River Land & Mineral Co. and the Bank of Australasia strengthened his position as confidant to Charles Gibbs Hamilton, governor of the A.A. Co. in 1910-48 and son of Edward Hamilton.

Livingstone-Learmonth died at Woking, Surrey, on 12 July 1945 and was buried in Brookside cemetery. He left an estate of £57,854 and was survived by two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Gollan, The Coalminers of New South Wales (Melb, 1963)
  • Pastoral Review, 16 May 1910, 15 Aug 1911, 16 Oct 1945
  • Times (London), 14 July 1945
  • Blake to Gregson, 1 Apr, 12 June, 29 Nov 1902, 11 Feb, 5 Aug 1904, Gregson to Blake, 27 June 1903, 17 Feb, 13 Aug, 1, 15 Oct 1904, Learmonth to Blake, 25 Nov 1904, 10 Aug 1909, Learmonth to Hamilton, 5 June, 12 July, 17 Oct 1911, A.A. Co papers, (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Livingstone-Learmonth, Frederick Valiant (1862–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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