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Francis Harry Rowe (1895–1958)

by Helen Boxall

This article was published:

Francis Harry Rowe (1895-1958), public servant, was born on 20 October 1895 at Bright, Victoria, son of Richard Harry Rowe (d.1906), mine-manager, and his wife Thomasina, née Rodda. Frank grew up in the large household of his relations at Wandiligong. Educated at the local state school, he worked as a teacher with the Victorian Education Department at Bright, Wandiligong, and Collingwood, Melbourne, and held a commission in the senior cadets. On 12 March 1917 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was allotted to the Army Medical Corps. After making a voyage to England as an orderly in the hospital ship Kanowna, he was discharged from the army on 24 September in Melbourne. In 1918 he joined the Commonwealth Repatriation Department as a clerk. At the Presbyterian Church, Numurkah, on 24 September 1920 he married Annie Victoria Callander.

In 1921-32 Rowe was based in Brisbane as deputy-commissioner for repatriation in Queensland. Back in Melbourne, he served (from 1933) as chief war pensions officer for the Commonwealth and assisted W. M. Hughes, the minister for health and repatriation, in formulating new policies. In June 1935 he was appointed deputy-chairman of the Repatriation Commission. He was temporarily transferred in February 1941 to the Department of Labour and National Service as chief administrative officer to co-ordinate the preparation of a new national child-endowment scheme. Appointed secretary of the Department of Social Services on 9 April, he became its first director-general on 11 December. At that time the department administered the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act (1908-41) and the Maternity Allowance Act (1912-37). While Rowe was in office, major changes occurred in child endowment (1941), widows' pensions (1942), unemployment and sickness benefits (1944) and measures for rehabilitating physically handicapped people (1948).

In 1946 Rowe visited New Zealand as a government adviser to discuss reciprocal social-welfare arrangements. Later that year he spent six months in Canada and the United States of America, investigating social-welfare issues and studying legislation; he also attended the Maritime Session of the International Labour Conference, held at Seattle. He represented Australia at the United Nations Social Commission in Geneva in 1951, and in New York in 1952 and 1955 where the agenda covered welfare developments in member nations. In 1952 and 1955 he attended sessions of the I.L.C. in Geneva.

Rowe was 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall and solidly built. He was endowed with a sense of humour, a deep respect for others, and a humane approach to technical and administrative aspects of social welfare. One colleague remarked, 'I don't know why it is but I feel better when I just know he's in the building'. In 1953 Rowe was appointed C.B.E. He visited London in 1957 to negotiate a reciprocal agreement (1958) on social security between Britain and Australia.

Survived by his wife and two daughters, Rowe died of a coronary occlusion on 24 May 1958 in the Mercy Hospital, East Melbourne, and was cremated. In 1959 a fellowship was named after him: it enabled Australian physicians to undertake postgraduate training in rehabilitation in the United States.

Select Bibliography

  • L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger 1914-1952, vol 2 (Syd, 1979)
  • Social Services Journal, June 1958
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 Feb 1941, 1 June 1959
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Boxall, 'Rowe, Francis Harry (1895–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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