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Drake-Brockman, Frederick Slade (1857–1917)

Mr. Frederick Slade Drake-Brockman, the Surveyor-General, died at Marsden Private Hospital, Ord-street, on Tuesday morning in his sixty-first year. He was taken ill four weeks ago with pleurisy, which developed into pneumonia, and in consequence of complications supervening his condition had been critical for the past fortnight. He was attended by Drs. Stewart, Merryweather, and Baldwin Gill, and two of his daughters—Lady Hackett and Mrs. Ferguson Stewart (wife of Dr. Stewart, of Guildford)—had been in hourly attendance upon him for the past three weeks. His wife, who at the beginning of his illness was staying with their third daughter (Mrs. Hutchison, the wife of a master of the Sydney Grammar School), had been doing her utmost to return to Perth, but owing to the strikes she was unable to do so. She went to Adelaide in the hope of getting a boat, but was obliged to return to Melbourne, where she boarded the Dimboola, which is due to arrive at Fremantle.

The late Surveyor-General belonged to one of the pioneer families in the State. He was born at Seabrook, near Northam, on July 9, 1857, and spent some part of his early life at Herne Hill, in the Middle Swan area. He was educated at Bishop Hale's College and in 1878 he was articled to Mr. J. S. Brooking, and in due course became a licensed surveyor. From 1882 to 1897 he was employed by the Lands and Surveys Department in many parts of the State, from Cambridge Gulf in the north to the Great Bight in the south. He entered the Government service in 1886 as an acting staff surveyor. In 1888 and the following year he was engaged on the survey and construction of the Wyndham to Hall's Greek telegraph line, which occupied from 18 months to two years. In 1901 he led an exploration into the Kimberley district, which was the only part of Australia unexplored, and his report is a valuable document. He was accompanied by the late Mr. Charles Crossland as second in command, Dr. F. M. House as naturalist and botanist, and Mr. Gibbs Maitland as geologist. At that time Mr. Drake-Brockman was controller of the field survey staff. "He was successful in securing full information of this long secluded region" (states Ernest Favenc in The Explorers of Australia) "of its geographical, geological, and botanical details. Many interesting photographs were obtained of the different physical features, and of the aborigines and their modes of life; amongst them being views of rock paintings similar to the mysterious scenes noticed by Grey during his first expedition to the Glenelg River...The most important practical result of the expedition was the discovery of an area of six million acres of basaltic pastoral country covered with blue grass, Mitchell, and kangaroo grasses, and many varieties of what is known as top feed." The great value and extent of the Kimberley pastoral areas is now a matter of common knowledge. Mr. Drake-Brockman also favoured the cultivation of cotton in the Kimberley region, and while in England on a semi-official visit a few years later—when he lectured in various parts of that country for the purpose of promoting emigration to Western Australia —his idea found considerable favour with the Liverpool cotton merchants. An insurmountable difficulty, however, was to secure the right kind of labour to make the proposal practicable. Mr. Drake-Brockman did a great deal of work in connection with the opening up and development of the South-West, in the prospects of which area he had great faith. He was one of the first to go through from Bridgetown to Denmark, returning by another route. In 1910, when the department was decentralised by the appointment of six district surveyors, he was placed in charge of the Bridgetown district. He was there for five years, and on the death of the Surveyor-General (Mr. H. F. Johnston) in June, 1915, he took over those duties. He always displayed a keen interest in his work, particularly in the scientific side, and was popular with his fellow-officers. He was greatly interested in the settlement of returned soldiers on the land, and was chairman of the land selection section of the Repatriation Board. He was chairman of the Wodgil Board, a member of the Railway Advisory Board, chairman of the Town Planning Association, and chairman of the Licensed Surveyors' Board.

Mr. Drake-Brockman married, in 1878, Miss Grace Bussell, who was known as the "Grace Darling of Western Australia," on account of her heroic action in connection with the rescue of the passengers and crew of the Georgette—which was wrecked near the Leeuwin in 1876—for which she received the Royal Humane Society's medal. In addition to the three daughters already mentioned, there are four sons; three of whom are on active service. The eldest is Colonel Edmund Drake-Brockman C.M.G., of the 46th Battalion. He was present at the famous landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, when he had the rank of major. He was wounded during the Gallipoli campaign, and for his services he was awarded the C.M.G., and the Montenegrin Order of Danilo. The second son, Major Geoffrey Drake-Brockman, of the 4th Field Company Engineers, left Western Australia as a private in the 10th Light Horse, and was also at the "landing." He has won the Military Cross for his work in France, and has been wounded. The third son, Mr. Allan Drake-Brockman, who volunteered for active service, is well-known in business circles in the city. The fourth son is Captain Karl Drake-Brockman, of the 5th Royal Fusiliers. He won the Rhodes Scholarship in this State seven years ago, and secured a double first at Oxford, subsequently being called to the Bar of the Inner Temple. At the outbreak of the war he was practising as a barrister and solicitor in Perth. He also has been wounded, and now holds a staff appointment at Dover. The late Mr. Drake-Brockman leaves 15 grandchildren.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • funeral, West Australian, 13 September 1917, p 4

Citation details

'Drake-Brockman, Frederick Slade (1857–1917)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 September 2017.

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