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McMaster, Sir Frederick Duncan (1873–1954)

The death of Sir Frederick Duncan McMaster, K.B., on Sunday, 28th November at his home on Dalkeith, Cassilis, N.S.W., deprives the pastoral industry of an exemplary leader and a wide circle of personal friends of a kind and generous companion. At the service in St. Stephen's Church, Sydney, on 30th November, at which his Excellency the Governor of New South Wales and many distinguished citizens of the professional and commercial life of the State were present, a fitting tribute was paid to Sir Frederick's life and work, and the fine example displayed throughout as a businessman, philanthropist, sportsman, and gentleman.

In all his pastoral activities there was an underlying practical outlook and a virile spirit of progress, which not only created a successful enterprise at Dalkeith in the establishment of one of the major stud flocks of Merino sheep in Australia and a fine pure bred herd of Hereford cattle, but also provided a basis for the development of scientific discoveries dealing with the betterment of soil, pastures, and stock. Dalkeith is a monument to his progressive spirit, no less than the innumerable good works he set in hand in every direction.

Sir Frederick accepted and developed the theory that every effect must have a cause, and concentrated on encouraging scientists to find remedies for all the ills that beset the course of better farming. Any enterprise he considered would improve the primary industries for the welfare of Australia was liberally supported. Not all his benefactions by any means were made public, as hundreds of men on the land who received gifts of sheep and cattle can testify, but among those of especial note to record was a gift of £20,000 in 1929 to the Sydney University. This was used to erect an important research centre, called in his honour The McMaster Animal Health Laboratory, with a field station at Badgery's Creek, and later on was supplemented by another estate near Liverpool, where a considerable amount of valuable work has been undertaken. As recently as three days prior to his death Sir Frederick presented another £50,000 to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to build a wing to the McMaster Animal Health Laboratory at Sydney University. This new edifice will provide headquarters for the Chief of the Division of Animal Health and Production, and will be named the Ian McMaster Wing, to perpetuate the memory of his only son, Captain Ian Frederick McMaster, M.C., who fell at the battle of El Alamein on 2nd November 1942. He, too, reflected his father's belief that the great lesson of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it, and put this creed into effect by bequeathing his estate in trust to Sydney University for research work within the C.S.I.R.O.

Apart from being a kindhearted humorist and a gentleman who enjoyed his life to the full, Sir Frederick inspired others by his philosophy, which can be summed up in the words of Chalmers which he quoted with approval at the annual meeting of F. D. McMaster Pty. Ltd (of which he was chairman and managing director) on 19th November 1954, viz., "Live for something; do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy." In the course of perfecting the Dalkeith pastures he once commented- "Too few people have any sense of humus"!

Another of his pet subjects was soil erosion, and eminent authorities always quoted Dalkeith as an example of how this problem could be overcome. He also took an enthusiastic interest in every new invention, especially with machinery for the man on the land. His cars were among the first 50 registered in N.S.W., and at Dalkeith he maintained a first-class workshop.

Born at Sydney on 9th July 1873, Sir Frederick McMaster was the younger of two sons of the late Duncan McMaster whose family consisted also of three daughters. They lived at Binnia Downs, Coolah, N.S.W., which became the property of the elder son, John, and was the venue of a well known Shorthorn stud. Duncan McMaster purchased Dalkeith at Cassilis for Frederick, who took over the management of it in 1891, on leaving Sydney Grammar School. His family comprised the late Captain Ian McMaster, M.C., and one daughter, Thelma, who with her mother, Lady Muriel Evelyn McMaster, survive him. For the last 12 years Miss Thelma has proved a great comfort to her parents in their war bereavement by her practical interest in all station affairs, and her efficiency in controlling an important Hereford stud establishment at Dalkeith under her own ownership.

Sir Frederick, who was Knighted in 1939, enjoyed the greatest respect and love of all his employees, no less than from everyone in his district, where his services were constantly sought as a leader. His frequent acts of benevolence when on the bench as a J.P. are legendary, for he lived right up to the tenets of the Masonic Craft, with kindness and tolerance a distinguishing characteristic of his ways. One has but to look through the visitor's book at Dalkeith and read some of the observations of the guests to know that this unpretentious dwelling, with its homely comfort and hospitable roof, was unusual. The names in that book include members of the Royal Family. The last week of his life was spent in Sydney, nearly all the time at the White City tennis courts, which owe much of their existence to his patronage. He himself was a keen player till well over 70 years of age, and the green tennis court at Dalkeith is almost as well known to champions of many lands as those at the White City. His passing is that of a big-hearted, practical visionary, one of the founders of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association, one of the oldest Vice-Presidents of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, a member of the Royal Empire Lodge, and a participant in many other activities of a useful nature to his fellow men and his country.

Original publication

  • Pastoral Review and Graziers' Record, 16 December 1954, p 1489 (view original)

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Citation details

'McMaster, Sir Frederick Duncan (1873–1954)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mcmaster-sir-frederick-duncan-708/text709, accessed 25 April 2019.

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