Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Francis Murphy (1893–1949)

by Robert S. Swift

This article was published:

James Francis Murphy (1893-1949), public servant, was born on 12 March 1893 at North Carlton, Melbourne, second son of Irish-born parents Peter Murphy, police constable (later sergeant), and his wife Winifred Mary, née Sheane. Educated at Christian Brothers' colleges in South and East Melbourne, Frank joined the Commonwealth Public Service in 1910 and was appointed to the Department of External Affairs. He studied commerce part time at the University of Melbourne. On 25 February 1922 at the Church of Our Lady of Victories, Camberwell, he married with Catholic rites Beatrice Emily McClounan, a 31-year-old typist.

Seconded to the staff of the Development and Migration Commission in 1927, Murphy transferred to the Prime Minister's Department in 1930. He served as secretary of the Australian delegation to the Imperial Economic Conference, held in Ottawa in 1932, and that year was made assistant-secretary, Department of Commerce (Commerce and Agriculture from 1942). Aged only 41, he took over as departmental secretary on 17 December 1934 and was to occupy that position until November 1945. He moved to Canberra in 1936 with the department's central administration. In the following year he was appointed C.M.G.

From 1939 Murphy was a member of numerous government bodies established to administer wartime controls. Chairman of the Australian Hides and Leather Industries Board and of the Australian Potato Committee, he was vice-chairman of the Shipping Control and the Wheat Industry Stabilization boards. In February 1943 he became deputy-chairman of the Rural Reconstruction Commission. After Japan entered (1941) World War II, the Australian armed forces increased in size and large numbers of American servicemen arrived in Australia. Food was officially declared a munition of war. The Federal government saw the need for a central authority to regulate the growth, production, manufacture, processing, distribution, disposal and use of food, foodstuffs, fertilisers and fodder. In May 1943 the office of controller-general of food was established in Melbourne. Murphy held the post until two months after hostilities ended.

In November 1945 Murphy was appointed chairman of the Australian Wool Realization Commission, Commonwealth wool adviser, and economic adviser to the minister for commerce and agriculture. The Wool Realization Commission was the Australian participant in United Kingdom-Dominion Wool Disposals Ltd (of which he was a director), a body which was established jointly by the British, Australian, New Zealand and South African governments to manage the disposal of stocks accumulated during the war and to market future clips. The commission instituted a reserve-price scheme for wool and quickly reduced the Australian portion (almost seven million bales in July 1945) of the stockpile.

Suffering from hypertension, Murphy died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 18 January 1949 at his Balwyn home and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery; his wife, two sons and two daughters survived him. A tall, handsome, bespectacled man with a hearty laugh, a booming voice and an imposing presence, he was forthright and dominating in manner. His colleagues on the commission praised his 'conspicuous ability' and 'masterly understanding', and felt the loss of 'an able Chairman, a lovable personality and a wise leader'.

Select Bibliography

  • S. J. Butlin, War Economy 1939-42 (Canb, 1955)
  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • Rural Reconstruction Commission, Report, Jan 1944-Aug 1946
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Feb 1933, 10 Feb 1936, 25 May 1943, 19, 20 Jan 1949
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 27 Jan 1949
  • United Kingdom—Dominion Wool Disposals Ltd records (microfilm copy, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert S. Swift, 'Murphy, James Francis (1893–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 March, 1893
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


18 January, 1949 (aged 55)
Balwyn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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