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Ellis, Leon Macintosh (1887–1941)

Because of his long residence in Australia and his divorcement from public forestry for over 12 years, the death of Leon Macintosh Ellis in Melbourne on November 25th, 1941, went almost unnoticed in this country, and is still unknown to many people to whom his colourful personality made a strong appeal as ushering in a new era in New Zealand forestry.

Born in 1887 of fine Scotch Canadian stock, MacIntosh Ellis went through the usual succession of public school and collegiate institute until he matriculated into the University of Toronto in 1905. There he spent five years in the Faculties of Forestry and Applied Science (Civil Engineering), graduating with Honours from the Forestry School in 1911 with the “degree of B.Sc. (Forestry). He largely worked his own way through University, securing experience during the field seasons with the Laurentine Pulp and Paper Company of Canada, the Forest and Lands Department of the Ontario Government, the engineering, construction and permanent way departments of the James Bay Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the logging department of the Hood Lumber Company in British Columbia.

In 1910, shortly before graduating, he joined the Canadian Pacific Railway and eventually became Assistant Superintendent of its Forestry Department under Mr. R. D. Prettie. His six years experience with the C.P.R. was a wide and varied one, embracing many aspects of management, protection, utilization, silviculture and economics, and there is little doubt that the modern business methods and ramifications of this great corporation imbued him with the idea of carrying out forestry projects on an ambitious scale.

In 1916 he enlisted in the Canadian overseas military forces and with the rank of Captain became eventually Assistant Chief Forest Officer of the Forestry Division of the Canadian Forestry Corps in France. In this capacity he was responsible for all questions of forestry practice relating to the operations of the Corps in the purely French army areas. In addition he conducted the initial examination of all areas submitted to the Canadian Forestry Corps for exploitation and supervised current operations. To many friends and acquaintances he was almost as well known as “Cap” or “Cappy” as he was “MacIntosh” to others. It was as a result of his association with Colonel J. Sutherland during the war that, when this officer returned to Scotland to take up his post as Commissioner of the Forestry Division of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, he selected Captain Ellis as an Advisory Forest Officer, and from this post MacIntosh Ellis came to take up his appointment as the first Director of Forestry in New Zealand.

His achievements in New Zealand will long speak for themselves. First and foremost MacIntosh Ellis was a personality—and looked it—courageous, purposeful and inspirational. The imprint of that personality still lies upon the whole body politic, even more so upon the Forest Service which he created. Both his appearance and his manner and his turn of phrase and his unequivocal challenge of accepted and entrenched rights gave him the stamp of unorthodoxy, but in the realm of forest policy no concepts could have been sounder or more orthodox than those which characterised his administration.

The first years of his directorship were given over to the formulation of a Forest Act and the creation of the Forest Service as an administrative instrument. As a basic piece of legislation his Forest Act of 1921–22 and the amending Act of 1926 must rank amongst the best of their kind in the English speaking world. It is doubtful if he ever realised how well he had protected by this legislation the future of forestry in New Zealand in securing the basic land requirement of all forestry—permanency of use and tenure—through safe-guarding the alienation of forest land except by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. In the administrative field his greatest achievement was the substitution of block timber sales for royalty payment on output, this one measure alone having done more than all other administrative measures combined since the establishment of the Colony in 1840, to conserve the country’s timber supplies and forest wealth.

Over these early years his Annual Reports also reflect the natural instinct of the forester to rely upon the indigenous stands as his basic source of future timber supplies, and it was only with much reluctance that he abandoned this idea as an impractical solution to the country’s future timber problem. His alternative of embarking upon the most ambitious exotic forestation programme of the English speaking world gave him full scope for the play of his creative and organising abilities and his driving and colourful personality. To foresters the world over MacIntosh Ellis will ever remain the man who made exotic forestation a household word not merely in New Zealand but throughout the British Commonwealth of Nations. As originally planned by him in 1925, the State Forest programme of 300,000 acres of exotic trees was not scheduled for completion until 1935, but by 1928 he had achieved his objective of raising the annual plantings to 34,000 acres, and though he left New Zealand in that year to take up private consulting activities in Australia, such was the impetus of his work that the programme was completed several years ahead of schedule.

Although living in Sydney, most of his early years in Australia were concerned with private forestry developments in Queensland, during which period his contacts with public forestry were few and far between. He also revisited New Zealand on several occasions in connection with private forestry activities and finally moved to Melbourne to join that great Commonwealth group—Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd.—to organise its pulpwood supplies for the Maryvale kraft pulp and paper mill in Victoria. This brought him once more into contact with public forestry and in addition to the letting of pulpwood contracts, etc., he was responsible for basic studies into the more accurate measurement of pulpwood.

His passing away at the early age of 54 years is much to be deplored, Undoubtedly he came to office as First Director of Forestry in New Zealand at a most propitious moment—with the stage set by Sir David E. Hutchins, I.F.S., the play written by that great statesman, the Rt. Hon. Sir F. H. D. Bell, P.C., G.C.M.G., and press notices definitely helpful and sympathetic—but it was MacIntosh Ellis in the leading role who captured the public imagination and secured from Government and Parliament that great measure of support for public forestry which ever since has been the envy of other English speaking countries. To MacIntosh Ellis New Zealand owes much, the profession and his colleagues even more, for his inspiration to greater achievements.

Original publication

  • New Zealand Journal of Forestry, vol 5, no 1, 1944, pp 6–8

Citation details

'Ellis, Leon Macintosh (1887–1941)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/ellis-leon-macintosh-18244/text29836, accessed 20 September 2017.

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