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Frederick Poate (1855–1935)

by John Atchison

This article was published:

Frederick Poate (1855-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

Frederick Poate (1855-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18023

Frederick Poate (1855-1935), surveyor-general, was born on 17 June 1855 at Clanfield, Hampshire, England, son of Samuel Poate, farmer, and his wife Lucy Barling, née Pratt. Educated at Gosport, he passed the senior local examination in June 1873 and became an associate of arts, Oxford. That year he joined the surveyor-general's staff, Hong Kong, and, by 20, was surveyor-in-charge, Ordnance Survey, Hong Kong and British Kowloon. His experience within the expanding colony fostered his lifelong conviction that surveying was the bedrock of development. Although he resigned in 1876, he remained interested in the colony, advocating its trade potential for Australia.

Migrating to Sydney, Poate joined the Department of Lands in April 1877, became a licensed surveyor in June and worked in 1877-80 as field surveyor, Tamworth. Appointed trigonometrical surveyor in 1880, he used the 1879-80 Richmond base line to carry east of Bathurst the triangulation coverage initiated by P. F. Adams. Agreement between the 1867 Lake George and Richmond bases suggested an overall accuracy of five parts per million. On 2 February 1882 at St Paul's Anglican Church, Sydney, Poate married Julia Frederica Rooke. In 1882-84 he organized and supervised the detail survey of Sydney which involved checking old boundary lines against all available evidence and legal implications for property title.

Five years as staff surveyor in country districts preceded his appointment as district surveyor, Tamworth (1889). Appointed acting chairman of the Land Board, Moree, in 1899, Poate in 1902-10 chaired the Land boards at Bingara, Moree, Walgett and Warialda and also Tamworth in 1904-06, areas where the demand for land was keen. In February 1910 he became chairman, Northern Advisory Board, and on 12 September assistant chief surveyor responsible for all field staff. He was appointed surveyor-general and chief surveyor from 1 February 1911.

Poate's surveying and administrative work within the State and his reputation enabled him to revive the proud traditions of an office that had been in abeyance for twenty years. In 1914 the Public Service Board placed the surveyor-general on the same grade as that of under-secretary.

By his sound judgement, strict fairness and determination as chairman of the Surveyors Board, Poate assiduously raised the status of the profession. He boosted work on the trigonometrical survey, fixing in 1911 a third base-line along the Byrock-Bourke railway. Although wartime exigencies in 1916 suspended this work, triangulation links to the base guaranteed cover of one-third of the State. Over two thousand stations were marked and their positions computed by rectangular spheroidal co-ordinates with a separate origin of reference for each county. He delivered an important paper on the survey to the conference of surveyors-general in 1912. Ill health compelled him to relinquish duties although he completed the final revision of the State forests and forest reserves before retiring in 1916.

Land settlement held such a fascination for Poate that he declined five offers to leave the service for better positions. He was an active trustee of the Australian Museum, Sydney, a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1881 and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, England (1912). Poate died on 3 December 1935 and was cremated with Anglican rites. A son (Sir) Hugh and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Surveyor (Sydney), 18 Apr 1899, 17 Apr 1902, 28 Feb 1911, 31 Jan 1912, 29 Feb 1913, 30 June, 31 Aug 1916
  • Agricultural Gazette (New South Wales), July 1899
  • Department of Lands (New South Wales), Annual Report, 1909, 1911-13, 1917
  • Public Service Journal (New South Wales), 1 Mar 1911
  • New South Wales Staff Surveyors' Association, Annual Conference (Bathurst), 1978
  • Town and Country Journal, 22 Mar 1911
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Dec 1935.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Poate, Frederick (1855–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 3 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Poate (1855-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

Frederick Poate (1855-1935), by unknown photographer, 1916

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18023

Life Summary [details]


17 June, 1855
Clanfield, Hampshire, England


3 December, 1935 (aged 80)

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