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Malcolm Lindsay Shepherd (1873–1960)

by W. J. Hudson and Christine Steele

This article was published:

Malcolm Lindsay Shepherd (1873-1960), public servant, was born on 27 October 1873 at Cambewarra, New South Wales, one of eleven children of Thomas Shepherd of Sydney, carrier and later tanner and farmer, and his Prussian-born wife Annie, née Schulz. After an elementary bush schooling, he began work in his father's tannery at 14 but, unable to meet the physical demands, was sent as a boarder to St Philip's Church of England Grammar School, Sydney. In 1890 he entered the Postmaster-General's Department of New South Wales as a shorthand writer and typist. On 9 December 1899 in Sydney he married Edith Nina Adelaide Dimelow (d.1915). He moved to Melbourne in 1901 as a clerk in the Commonwealth Postmaster-General's Department. In 1904, and apparently without special patronage (his first appointment in Sydney had been obtained through a politician-acquaintance), he was appointed private secretary to Prime Minister Alfred Deakin.

Shepherd was private secretary to successive prime ministers until 1911. Deakin, J. C. Watson, (Sir) George Reid and Andrew Fisher all found him loyal and industrious, but he established close rapport especially with Fisher whom he accompanied to the Imperial Conference in London in 1911. The same year, when Fisher established a Prime Minister's Department, Shepherd was appointed its first secretary. He served Fisher, (Sir) Joseph Cook and Fisher again in 1914-15, and his career was further boosted when he proved to be one of the few to enjoy the confidence of Fisher's successor, W. M. Hughes. A personal friendship extending to their families developed and was to last. On 15 February 1917, when Shepherd married Linda Hazel Hopetoun Gill in Melbourne, Hughes gave away the bride.

Shepherd accompanied Hughes to London in 1916, and it would seem that he could have had a place in Hughes's party for the more important trip to London and Paris in 1918-19. He chose to stay at home but he retained Hughes's favour; in 1920 he was appointed I.S.O. and next year official secretary to the high commission in London. For a few months after Fisher's retirement in 1921 and pending Cook's arrival in London, Shepherd was acting high commissioner. Hughes proposed to send Shepherd to Geneva as leader of the Australian delegation to that year's League of Nations assembly session but there was an outcry against what was seen as an inappropriate appointment for a mere official. S. M. (Viscount) Bruce, then a government back-bencher, was sent to join him. While in London, Shepherd served as Australian representative on the Pacific Cable Board and the Imperial War Graves Commission.

In 1927 he returned to Melbourne to become secretary of the Department of Defence. He was not long back, however, when he was suspended from duty by the minister, Sir William Glasgow, while a Public Service Board inquiry investigated allegations by a disappointed contract tenderer that Shepherd had sought bribes. He was cleared, but he took his suspension hard, and he tended to regard appointment as C.M.G. in 1935 as being in the nature of a government apology. He retired from Defence and from the public service in 1937. He died on 25 June 1960 in East Melbourne, and was cremated. His wife and daughter and a son of his first marriage survived him.

With very modest formal education and autocratic style, Shepherd typified the first generation or two of senior Federal public servants. In a service in which seniority was revered as much as merit, his rise caused some resentment—especially his London appointment, which carried with it a high salary and allowances. That he seemed especially able to recommend himself to senior Labor politicians probably did not improve his standing in some circles.

Select Bibliography

  • L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger (Syd, 1979)
  • P. G. Edwards, Prime Ministers and Diplomats (Melb, 1983)
  • British Australasian, 16 Mar, 11 May 1916
  • Punch (Melbourne), 6 July 1911, 7 Oct 1915, 22 Feb 1917
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Feb 1929
  • Shepherd memoirs (manuscript, CRS A1632, National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

W. J. Hudson and Christine Steele, 'Shepherd, Malcolm Lindsay (1873–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 July 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

Life Summary [details]


27 October, 1873
Cambewarra, New South Wales, Australia


25 June, 1960 (aged 86)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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