Sir Frederick Duncan McMaster [1873-1954]

By Colin WardDecember 8th, 2011


Australia, a young nation inhabiting the Earth’s most ancient continent, built its early prosperity on two great industries: mining and grazing. Both industries owe much to the deeds of almost folkloric individuals who defied convention, and followed their instincts in the face of considerable risk.

But mining and grazing also owe a substantial debt to science, particularly to publicly funded research conducted during the 20th century by the nation’s universities, and in particular, by the national research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and its predecessor, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

The Australian environment posed daunting challenges to farmers and graziers who, at first, attempted simply to transplant traditional farming systems into its landscapes, along with exotic crops and livestock species developed over many centuries in the fertile, well-watered landscapes of Britain and Europe. So much about the Australian environment was alien and unfamiliar: the ancient, infertile soils, an erratic climate punctuated by great droughts, massive bushfires, torrential rain and devastating floods. Such tribulations were compounded by a host of introduced diseases and parasites of crops and livestock, plus an array of weeds, feral animals and insect pests deliberately or accidentally imported from five other continents, and seemingly calculated to cause maximum mischief.

Every industry produces exceptional individuals who greet adversity as an intellectual challenge, and an incentive to innovate. They derive pleasure from trying to solve problems in bold, often unorthodox ways. Such individuals, commonly leaders in their chosen industries, alloy insight with foresight. They thirst for new knowledge; they are keen observers and natural experimenters, but they also keep close watch on new advances from formal scientific research. In the modern idiom, they are known as “early adopters”.

Frederick Duncan McMaster exemplified these traits, and combined them with fine human qualities like compassion and generosity. He had a strong philanthropic bent, which, at the height of his success as a grazier and sheep breeder, found expression in an enduring and mutually beneficial relationship with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and its successor, the CSIRO.

Australia’s reputation as one of the world’s pre-eminent nations in veterinary research can plausibly be traced to a relationship that began with McMaster’s appointment as a founding member of the NSW State Advisory Committee of the CSIR in 1926, and to his subsequent gift in 1929 of £20,000 to build a new veterinary research laboratory for CSIRO in the grounds of Sydney University.

McMaster’s original philanthropic act ‘ it was not his last ‘ was a patriotic response to a looming crisis in what had traditionally been Australia’s most profitable primary industry. The wool industry’s pedigree can be traced to the pioneering efforts of John and Elizabeth MacArthur, who began developing the merino breed from four ewes and two rams imported in 1797. Yet 130 years would pass, and Australia still had no major laboratory for sheep research.

In the late 1920s, the infant national research agency, CSIR, was seeking private sponsors to build a laboratory in which it could mount a sustained and systematic research effort into the diseases and parasites affecting the pastoral industry ‘ particularly sheep.

McMaster’s generous gift to establish the research centre that bears his name was both timely and enormously generous ‘ in today’s currency, equivalent to $988,000. But this would be just the beginning of his generosity towards the CSIR and its successor, CSIRO.

The first-class veterinary research that grew out of the McMaster Laboratory continues today, as do the benefits of McMaster’s philanthropy. Gene technology has ushered in a new era of veterinary science, and opened new horizons in disease and parasite control and animal breeding. Problems that were intractable, even into recent times, can now be approached and solved by means that would have been almost inconceivable to the graziers of McMaster’s era. But the Master of Dalkeith surely would have been delighted with the fruits of his legacy.

A pioneering family

Frederick Duncan McMaster was born in the Sydney suburb of Surrey Hills on 9 July 1873, the second son of Duncan McMaster, a Scottish-born pastoralist from Cooma, and his Australian-born wife Christina (nee Cox).

McMaster’s grandparents came from Morven, in Argyllshire. Duncan McMaster was 14 when they emigrated to Australia in the late 1830s to become sheep graziers, taking up land on the Liverpool Plains region around around Coolah. The family prospered and by the 1890s, Duncan McMaster owned Binnia Downs and Oban, near Coolah, Pollybrewon near Walgett, Bundella, near Quirindi, and Dalkeith, just west of Cassilis.

When young Frederick McMaster completed his education at Sydney Grammar School in 1891, his father appointed him manager of Dalkeith, the 14,568 hectare property he had purchased for his son. The property lay in hilly, basaltic, black-soil country, with 2,023 hectares of its area on the black-soil plain overlooking the Talbragar River.

Frederick McMaster assumed ownership of Dalkeith in 1899, becoming governing director of the Cassilis-based pastoral company F.D. McMaster Pty Ltd.

On 20 November 1901, Frederick married Muriel Evelyn Clara Sherlock, daughter of Cooma pastoralist T.J. Sherlock of Kiaora station. They had two children, Ian and Thelma.

Dalkeith thrived under McMaster’s management. His passion was breeding the world’s premier fine-wool breed, the Merino, and his reputation as a studmaster grew. By the late 1920s, he had produced two grand champion rams at the Sydney Show, and several reserve grand champions. He also bred the ram ‘David’, which sold for a then-world record of 5,000 guineas. He was a member of Merriwa Pastures Protection Board, the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW, and was a director of the Commonwealth Wool and Produce Company, which his father helped to found.

Frederick McMaster was a keen tennis player, and a director trustee of the NSW Lawn Tennis Association ‘ he later became president of the NSWLTA. He frequently hosted the Australian Davis Cup team and visiting overseas teams at Dalkeith. Like many Australians of the day, he was a great admirer of the British Empire, and was a member of the council of the Royal Empire Society and an honorary life member of the English Speaking Union.

In 1926 McMaster’s stature in the NSW grazing industry led the founding chairman of CSIR, Sir George Julius, to appoint him as one of three industry representatives on CSIR’s newly formed NSW state advisory committee. The committees, comprising scientists from State departments and CSIR, and senior figures from industry, were established to served as forums in which scientists and industrialists could discuss industry problems, and serve as a source of advice to the CSIR Executive Committee on research directions. It would prove an inspired appointment.

By the late 1920s, pastoral incomes were declining, in the face of rising labour and on-farm costs and falling wool prices. But pastoralists, with their industry’s long tradition of independence, viewed any government interference in their industry, even research for their own benefit, with deep suspicion. But there were now an estimated 100 million sheep in Australia, 12 million cattle, 2 million horses and 1 million pigs. Disease was both a constant threat and a daily reality for everyone in the livestock industries. A major veterinary research laboratory could hardly have been a more urgent priority.

In 1927 a joint meeting of the Australian Wool Growers’ Council and the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers launched an appeal for £200,000 to establish a pastoral fund trust; the interest would be used to fund research for the wool industry. The appeal languished; by 1929 it had raised only £44,000, generating a meagre annual income of £2,000 a year.

The Pastoral Review observed of the industry’s plight:

“One of the principal factors in the high cost of production of wool is the necessity for the frequent handling of sheep, owing to the prevalence of such pests as the blowfly and such diseases as footrot and braxy, a fatal clostridial infection, and this fact alone brings the pastoralist into a realm in which the scientist is very much at home. Science can also aid very materially in the re-establishment of edible grasses on denuded pastures.”

By 1929 the wool industry crisis had deepened; prices were still declining, and in addition to its perennial problems with disease, parasites and low fertility, competition was increasing from other wool-growing countries, and from cellulose-based synthetic fibres like rayon and viscose. Reducing costs and raising productivity had become imperative.

The turning point came at a luncheon organised by the NSW Sheepbreeders’ Association at the Sydney Agricultural Show in the first week of August 1929. Addressing the luncheon, Prime Minister Stanley Bruce (later Viscount Bruce) challenged graziers to share with the Federal Government the cost of research for their industry. Mr Bruce warned that, to meet increasing competition, the industry would need to make full use of scientific methods and the results of scientific research.

The Prime Minister urged the industry ‘ or individual pastoralists ‘ to finance a laboratory devoted to sheep research. The Federal Government would pay the recurrent costs of staffing and maintaining the laboratory.

Just over two weeks later, McMaster took up the challenge. He visited CSIR chairman Sir George Julius in Sydney, and announced he intended to take up the Prime Minister’s offer and pay the entire amount required to construct the laboratory and furnish it with research equipment. The Deed of Gift for £20,000 was executed on 19 August 1929; it was designated to fund construction of a new laboratory in the grounds of Sydney University or other appropriate place. It was the largest private gift CSIR had received, and led to a new era of veterinary research in Australia that gradually opened the industry’s eyes to the possibilities of new ideas and technologies.

The most remarkable aspect of the gift was that it was made just 66 days before the disastrous Wall Street stock market crash of October 24, which triggered to the Great Depression of 1929 – 34. The collapse in share prices around the world must have had a substantial impact on McMaster’s personal fortune, but if he had any regrets, he did not air them. He honoured his commitment to CSIR.

In fact, he did much more: the Depression hit the grazing industry hard, and many small woolgrowers faced ruin because they could not afford stud rams to maintain the quality of their flocks. In 1930 McMaster presented 500 merino rams, worth more than £4,000, to the Government for distribution to needy graziers.

Construction of the F.D. McMaster Research Laboratory

By 1929 CSIR was beginning to construct research laboratories for its scientists. A new building was going up on the slopes of Black Mountain in Canberra, to house the Divisions of Economic Botany and Economic Entomology. The Division of Forest Products had been temporarily located in premises in Melbourne, and the Division of Animal Nutrition was established in a new laboratory on the campus of Adelaide University.

In 1928, CSIR chairman G.A. Julius (later Sir George Julius), and Professor A.E.V. Richardson, director of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute in Adelaide, invited Sir Arnold Theiler, former director of Veterinary Education and Research at Onderstepoort, in South Africa, to familiarise himself with Australia’s animal health problems, and recommend how research should be organised.

In 1929, CSIR published his findings as part of a larger report titled ‘The Health and Nutrition of Animals’. Sir Arnold recommended that CSIR establish a new Division of Animal Health, headquartered in Canberra but with satellite laboratories in the states. He also recommended that CSIR make use of existing organisations and institutes involved in animal health, including the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney.

But the central laboratory was never built in Canberra ‘ CSIR decided it was better to locate the laboratory close to a major centre for veterinary science, and approached Sydney University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science. In June 1929, Sydney University agreed to provide a site for CSIR’s proposed veterinary research laboratory, adjacent to its own Veterinary Department on Parramatta Road in Glebe.

Sir Ian Clunies Ross, chief parasitologist in CSIR’s Division of Animal Health, had been appointed officer-in-charge of the proposed laboratory, and was involved in early planning. The design called for a substantial, two-storey building, 43 ft x 155 ft, equipped with post-mortem rooms, a library, laboratories, a photographic unit, facilities for controlled-temperature environments, and external sheep pens.

But the university withheld final approval until CSIR could obtain funding for construction ‘ and in the difficult economic climate of 1929, with the pastoral industry at low ebb, that seemed an unlikely prospect.

Clunies Ross left Australia on a visit to Japan late in June, with the funding impasse unresolved. He was still in Tokyo in mid-August when read about Bruce’s challenge to the pastoral industry in an issue of ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ sent to Japan.

With considerable optimism ‘ or prescience ‘ Clunies Ross wrote to the Chief Executive Officer of CSIR, Sir David Rivett on 17 August:

“I should think it quite likely that some ambitious individual might rise at the very tempting bait offered by the Prime Minister, since it certainly read as though there would be a very good return for any services rendered in connection with this very praiseworthy undertaking.”

On 23 August, Rivett wrote back to Clunies Ross, informing him of McMaster’s gift:

I cannot help feeling, in view of the rapid development of things in Sydney as a result of Mr McMaster’s £20,000 gift, that it might be as well for you to get back here fairly soon.

On his return to Sydney, Clunies Ross was introduced to McMaster, and rapidly established a rapport with his laboratory’s newfound benefactor. A warm relationship developed, that was to endure for 25 years, even after Clunies Ross became chairman of the new Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in 1949.

And so the laboratory was built, in the midst of the Great Depression. Construction proceeded rapidly, and Clunies Ross and his small band of researchers and administrative staff moved in mid-1931. Rivett initially suggested to McMaster that the official opening be in late September, but the CSIR Executive Committee subsequently chose Thursday 26 November, because Sir George Julius was unavailable until November. McMaster had written back to Rivett saying Julius’ absence from the opening “would be very unfortunate, in fact I cannot imagine it being opened without him.”

Stanley Bruce’s National-Country Party Government had been defeated in October 1929, so the new Labor Prime Minister John Scullin was invited to open the new F.D. McMaster Animal Health Laboratory. In Opposition, Scullin had pledged his support for the new CSIR laboratory.

But a Cabinet meeting prevented both the Prime Minister, and the Minister in charge of CSIR, Senator John Daly, attending. In the end, the honour of opening the laboratory fell to Sydney University’s Chancellor, Sir William Cullen, whose university had given it a home. Among the official guests were the NSW Minister for Agriculture and the Deputy Chancellor of the University, Sir Mungo MacCallum. McMaster invited many of his fellow members of the Royal Agricultural Society.

Sir George Julius and Clunies Ross both spoke at the opening ceremony. In jest, Clunies Ross suggested naming a new sheep parasite ‘ discovered at the laboratory only weeks earlier ‘ after CSIR’s benefactor, but then withdrew the proposal on the grounds that no parasite would be worthy of the name mcmasteri.

Rather, said Clunies Ross, the only hope that he and his staff had of showing their real appreciation was to perform some work that would be of substantial and lasting value to the industry.

In his official address, Sir William Cullen observed that no man worked harder with brain and body than did the man on the land. Those who talk of the primary producer as a person always floundering in wealth know little of the vicissitudes of rural industries, or of the trials the men on the land have to suffer.

Sir William Cullen then presented McMaster’s wife, Muriel, with a golden ceremonial key to officially open the laboratory’s doors.

In his response, McMaster said he regarded his gift to CSIR as a little rent for being allowed to live on this beautiful earth and to enjoy God’s gifts.

Hinting at the strain the gift had placed on his personal finances in the midst of the Great Depression, he said:

It has come to my ears that some people are saying I must be kicking myself for having promised this laboratory just before the bottom fell out of the pastoral industry.

Nothing in life is good that is too easy, and the harder it is for me to honour this promise, the more satisfaction I get.

McMaster noted that the new building had been designed to take a third storey. He had anticipated such an event, and while he could not commit his son or daughter to such a project, he hoped that they would be able to fund it at some time in the future. He drew laughter with his explanation that, like a good Scotsman he wanted to keep the thing in the family.

CSIR now had a new animal health laboratory, but it did not yet have a field station where it could conduct research trials under real-world conditions. McMaster had recently leased a 2,000 – acre property, Hinchinbrook, near Liverpool, then an outer suburb of Sydney. In 1931 he offered CSIR a lease, on very generous terms, on part of the property.

CSIR established a temporary field station on the property, but in 1936 bought its own property at Badgery’s Creek, near Cabramatta. It named its new acquisition the F.D. McMaster Field Station.

McMaster’s extraordinary generosity did not end there. At the time of the move to Badgery’s Creek, Clunies Ross wrote to Sir Frederick, describing a research project being undertaken by one of his staff, which indicated that ram fertility waxed and waned with seasonal and other conditions. CSIR needed 100 to 150 ewes to test the hypothesis, but it could not afford to buy the animals. Could McMaster help by loaning the ewes for the duration of the project?

McMaster had noticed similar seasonal variation in ram fertility on his own property, and was immediately interested in the research. He promptly replied, ‘It will give me the greatest pleasure to present this number to CSIRO outright, and it only remains with you how and when you will take them.’

When CSIR handed its Hinchinbrook lease back to McMaster in early 1937. Dr Dudley Gill, who had succeeded Clunies-Ross as Officer in Charge of the McMaster Laboratory, wrote to McMaster expressing CSIR’s gratitude, and drawing attention to an overlooked payment for the last month of the lease. McMaster wrote back declining to accept the payment, and confessing his guilt that he had even charged CSIR for the Hinchinbrook lease in the first place.

At home on Dalkeith

In 1934 the news magazine ‘The Pastoral Review’ sent a correspondent to McMaster’s property Dalkeith. His report offers insights into the wealthy pastoralist’s lifestyle, his approach to grazing, and his regard for his staff.

On the day the correspondent arrived, McMaster had just installed a new film projector, complete with sound, and held regular film nights in a glassed-in theatre on the homestead’s verandah to entertain his staff and friends from the district. This was less than a decade after the release of the world’s first ‘talkie’ feature film. It seems to give the owner much real pleasure in giving pleasure to other people, wrote the Review’s correspondent.

The ‘Review’ describes a property of 36,000 acres, divided into 34 large paddocks and carrying 30,000 sheep, in a landscape of black soil hills and fertile flats, and with an abundance of sweet grasses and herbiage. Dalkeith employed 22 staff, including fathers and sons ‘ many of the younger men were born there. Average annual rainfall was 24 inches (600 mm), and the property boasted 12 wells and artesian bores, in addition to its two rivers and four permanent creeks.

In the woolshed my attention was arrested by the sign ‘2000 BC’. It hung over the tarpots. Instead of these, a small duco (spraypainting), gun is used to spray sheep with soothing disinfectant. The shearers are very keen on this hygienic improvement.

‘The Review’ writer observed that the owner of Dalkeith shows a deep understanding of the value of propaganda*, deplores the mimicry of Australian life so often seen in city theatres, and does his utmost in an unobtrusive way to enlighten those who do not realise the beauty and the worth of this great country.

  • Here, ‘propaganda’ is used in its original meaning of ‘publicity’.

The correspondent sums up McMaster as an exemplary citizen, a generous benefactor, and an outstanding exponent of all that is most progressive in his chosen profession.

He comments too on the appearance of the property:

Bathurst burr had a strong hold on the country, and about four years ago I remember how many of the paddocks were simply covered with this noxious weed. Today much of this has disappeared due to the owner’s system of reserve stocking.

‘Reserve stocking’ was McMaster’s own system of husbanding his land and its natural resources, distilled from his four decades of experience as a grazier. His conservative approach was exemplary, and decades ahead of its time ‘ many graziers then, and even in modern times, overstocked their land in ignorance of its carrying capacity, and in the face of their bitter experience with drought, erosion and weeds that flourished in denuded pastures.

McMaster often held forth to visitors on the subject of overgrazing, which he describes in a 1940 essay as’the greatest evil in Australia today’. The four-page essay offers insights into the mind of a man who was a natural scientist, conservationist and economist:

Scientists have told us that wool is composed mainly of cystine (sic), and that cystine exists in our natural pastures, in limited quantities, so that it follows that sheep getting enough cystine will produce a better quality and bulkier fleece than a sheep that is short of such food. In other words, five sheep getting enough of the best foods will produce more actual wealth than eight sheep short of same.


Then again, the proper stocking of our Pastures is the only answer to combating weed pests. If one studies the life of noxious weeds, one finds they thrive best in lanes, sheep yards and overstocked lands. Nature must be assisted by sensible stocking, and in severe cases by absolute spelling (resting) of one’s land.

As against bluestems of America, we have the Liverpool Plains grass and Kangaroo Grass, which in unabused country are also often as high as a horse’s back, overrun in abused country by Barley Grass (Foxtail), Horehound, German Burr, Bathurst Burr, Castor Oil Plant, Thornapple, etc.

McMaster describes his system of ‘reserve stocking’ as:

the process in which part of the annual yield is held in reserve, either by means of a reserve pasture or by UNDERSTOCKING. It constitutes an insurance against emergencies and is specially adapted to periods of drought.

Most important of all in reserve stocking is its preservation of the SOIL and its prevention of EROSION.

That the depletion of our subterranean water is due to the overgrazing of our Watersheds, I have no doubt, for the rain that falls today simply runs off the land the same as from the roof of a house, instead of, as of old, being arrested by the rooted grasses, soaking into the soil, finding its own level and then reappearing in the form of Springs and running creeks.

Clunies Ross and one of his colleagues at the nearby Veterinary School, Dr Roy Carne, visited McMaster at Dalkeith in 1936. Writing about the visit more than two decades later, Carne wrote:

It was always amusing to see Ian and old Sir Frederick together. He was a character – a funny mixture. Rather a nice old boy. Always turned himself out very properly with a tall shirt collar and a grey turned-up that he was very wealthy. He was absolutely convinced that the Good Lord had called him to this high estate to run this prime property and took himself very seriously in many ways and Ian used to take him off to perfection. Old Sir Frederick used to think the sun shone out of Ian’s eyes.

Carne describes the Dalkeith property and homestead:

it was an attractive homestead, quite unpretentious from outside but very comfortably fitted out with swimming pools and all sorts of things. Old McMaster was a very good manager. Everything on the place worked perfectly. All his gates were properly swung. All his machinery was properly oiled. Belts were all rolled up and put away. Our old Morris was very battered and filthy when we got in. Next morning it was beautifully polished up and cleaned by the people there.

In ‘Harbour In Heaven’, published in 1949, author Alan Jory is moved to the heights of lyricism by his encounter with the Master of Dalkeith. Sir Frederick, now aged 76, had been made a Knight Bachelor 25 years earlier, in 1934, for services to the grazing industry and the community:

Whoever would know Australia, should know ‘Dalkeith‘ and its owner, Sir Frederick McMaster. Of the leaders behind this real Australia, upon which the town lives, Sir Frederick looms out, an almost legendary figure, whose mind and vision match his imposing physique.

The spirit of the good earth, bound together by waving grasses, kindly nurse of dumb animals and ripening corn, and breath of life to men, has entered into him, and imparted its own care for beyond the day, its sense of yesterday and tomorrow, its leisured pertinacity, its habit of stirring with the dawn. He has a faculty of opening his arms to life, so that the genius of rare, brave moments in the struggles of men mysteriously abides under his roof.

While the existence of most of us is confused and derivative, this man is at one with himself, with a central devotion to the land of which he is steward, an instinct for wind and weather, and an ear for the rhythms of the spinning earth.

He notes that Sir Frederick has furnished his century-old stone house with various gauges and barometers, and makes a morning ritual of reading them:

Sir Frederick in dungarees, squinting through a telescope to read the wind measurement from the anemometer, or meticulously writing down the figures for the day, or crossing the lawn followed by a Great Dane and a pointer to the sun clock, whose shadow marks the hour, remains as vivid in the visitor’s memory as the same host, in velvet smoking jacket, sitting at his ease in the evening, and sizing up men and affairs.

He sees ‘signs of unusual care’ everywhere on the property:

the dog kennels dug into the earth and concreted, so they are warm in winter and cool in summer, the alternative electric generating plant, the pipes which drain water from the gutters, the pumps and well, and beyond the homestead, the tall grasses in the paddocks, the healthy cattle and sheep, the thirty windmills, the living trees instead of dead stumps.

Jory describes Sir Frederick as someone who could be roused to militant satire upon bureaucratic impostures and the tyrannies of red tape, and as a friendly knight who  cannot the dilettante, but a practical experimenter who has made an original contribution to agriculture.

Sir Frederick is the doyen of graziers, sportsman, raconteur, celebrated host and a great patriot, who gave freely of the best he had, in peace and in war.

Here, Jory is alluding to the tragic death of Sir Frederick’s son, from wounds received in the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt.

A brave son’s death

Sir Frederick’s son, Captain Ian McMaster, clearly possessed many of his father’s outstanding human and leadership qualities. He was twice mentioned in despatches during the Western Desert campaign in North Africa, and was subsequently awarded one of the British Empire’s highest military decorations, the Military Cross.

The citation read:

Captain I.F. McMaster, during the operations in the Western Desert commencing October 23rd, 1942, has shown outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty. In the night attack on enemy positions on 23rd October, he led his Company with calm courage and complete disregard for his own safety. Subsequently he has shown great steadiness and tenacity in organising his position and encouraging his men while his Company has been holding a part of our front line against persistent enemy attacks. It is largely due to his leadership and courage that, despite determined opposition by the enemy causing many casualties, his Company never failed to take its objective in attack, or to hold the ground which he had won.

But Captain Ian McMaster’s award of the Military Cross was made posthumously. Early in November 1942, Sir Frederick and Lady McMaster learned that their only son, and Thelma’s brother, had died of war wounds following the Battle of El Alamein.

On hearing the news, on 9 November, Hugh Gordon, acting OIC of the McMaster Laboratory, wrote to Sir Frederick:

It is with very great regret that I have just heard from Sir George Julius of Ian’s death in the recent fighting in Egypt. I send you and Lady McMaster my own deepest sympathy. The staff of the McMaster Laboratory joins with me in extending to you both their sympathy.

Sir Frederick responded, on 14 November:

Will you please accept yourself and convey to the Staff of the McMaster Laboratory our most sincere thanks for your sympathy, and very kind thoughts for us.

In another letter to Gordon on 3 December, Sir Frederick refers to a bequest to CSIR in his son’s will:

Thank you very much for your further letter about Ian and I appreciate your fine tribute about his bequest.

The full benefit of this Gift cannot be realised until my company is wound up, but the shares should contribute a useful annual contribution if I continue to pay the moderate dividend I have paid in the past.

We are having the biggest season on record and one can easily tie the grass across one’s knees on horseback. We will only have one fire if it starts, and I doubt if any stock would survive.

With kindest regards from the family and myself.

Gordon writes to Sir Frederick on 25 January 1943 offering to come to Dalkeith, ostensibly to check for worm infestations in young sheep, some of which have died after the recent, record rain. But his concern for the grieving family is clear:

We were all very pleased to see the news that Ian had been awarded a decoration (the Military Cross). It must be a source of gratification for you, although it can in no way make up for your great loss.

On 31 January, Sir Frederick thanks him for his offer, in a letter that hints at his personal grief:

While welcoming anything that would savour as a pretext for the pleasure of seeing you at Dalkeith again, I cannot honestly state that there is now sufficient necessity to do anything with my young sheep. I feel the losses are entirely due to grass seed and flies.

Thank you very much for your kind thought about Ian’s decoration. It is very fine, but these things do certainly tear at one’s heart strings.

On 23 October 1943, a memorial service for Captain Ian McMaster MC was held at St Columba’s Church in Cassilis, at which a stained-glass window was dedicated to his memory.

In his address to the service, the Bishop of Newcastle, a friend of the McMaster family, lamented the whole problem of war, and its apparent wastage, of what appears to be the frittering away of splendid lives full of the promise of usefulness, yet cut off at the outset of their full development.

He described war as ‘hell’, but continued: Against that sombre background there shine our resplendent deeds of the purest devotion, sacrifices of the most utterly selfless kind.

He described Ian McMaster as having all the qualities of leadership, that combination of modesty, decision and consideration for others which enables a man to secure the confidence and following of his fellow men. His men, we are told, would follow him anywhere, at any time, and do anything he asked them.

Like father, like son: Ian McMaster’s bequest

In his will, Ian McMaster bequeathed 40,202 shares in the family company, F.D. McMaster Pty Ltd to Sydney University to use such gift in the providing of work now done by the CSIR or any other body that it shall select at the F.D. McMaster Animal Health Laboratory within the grounds of Sydney University.

But the phrasing of the will caused problems for CSIR, because it gave ultimate control of the funds to Sydney University. In a letter to Gill on 16 May 1946, Sir Frederick confirmed this was not his son’s intention:

Your explanation of the viewpoint of the Sydney University on Ian’s bequest is very plain and in view of the wording of the will (curse my solicitors) might easily have been worse. That the moneys should have to be filtered through the University is directly opposed to Ian’s and my wishes but it is no use crying over spilt milk.

Early in 1960 the University sold the shares back to Ian’s sister, Thelma McMaster, for 25 shillings each. It invested the proceeds of the sell-back to form part of the university’s Ian McMaster Bequest Fund. The income from Ian McMater’s bequest is still being used by CSIRO in conjuntion with Sydney University.

The Third Storey

On 16 May 1946, McMaster wrote to Gill saying the Government was resuming about 13,000 acres (2500 hectares) of Dalkeith for closer settlement, and describing its effect on the Ian McMaster bequest:

this will result in me having to apply to the court for permission to reduce the capital of the company and a consequent large distribution to shareholders, which in CSIRO’s case may amount to $10,000, so what about putting an extra storey on the lab in honour of Ian?

Gill replied on 21 May:

‘I was very interested in the news you give of the resumption and the effect this will have on the Ian McMaster Bequest. First, let me say how much I hope this resumption will not distress you too much. I know well the public spirited attitude you always adopt to such matters, but it must be a grievous thing to have taken from you a part of the wonderful property you have owned and built up over so many years.

When I was at Dalkeith recently I told you of the plans for increasing our accommodation here (discussions) are still going on and the present trend is to think in terms of a two-storey wing at the western end, rather than a third storey. An extra storey would not give us the space we need and moreover would be difficult to construct without putting the present building out of commission for some months.

If a wing is decided upon it would serve as just as appropriately as a memorial, being known as the ‘Ian McMaster Wing’. It would, of course, cost a great deal more than £10,000. So for that matter, would a third storey, especially as building costs go today. Nevertheless, I see no reason why that need matter. The additional capital could be found from government sources, on the understanding that it was to be recouped as and when capital from the bequest became available. You suggested that when we last discussed it, and it seems an excellent idea. In any case, I know that Sir David Rivett, Dr Lionel Bull , Chief of the Division of Animal Health] and I, in my small way, are determined that whatever is done, Ian McMaster’s memory will be fittingly honoured and upheld here.

But the project did not proceed. In 1954 Sir Frederick became aware that the original F.D. McMaster Animal Health Laboratory’s need for more space had become acute, so he now moved to sponsor the project himself.

In September 1954, without discussing the matter with what was now the CSIRO Division of Animal Health, he instructed his solicitors to arrange for Commonwealth Bonds to the value of £52,800 to build a two-storey wing onto the original laboratory, dedicated to the memory of his son, Ian.

The new officer in charge of the McMaster Laboratory, Dr D.F. Stewart, wrote to McMaster on 20 September thanking him:

Mr Gill has told me of your most generous gesture to assist us to solve the difficulties of accommodation at the McMaster. This was one of the problems which had worried me most since I took over the administration and I and Mr Hill had discussed how we could manage to relieve the position. Your offer has solved our difficulty and, if I may so, is in keeping with the long record of service to the community by yourself and your family. My only hope is that the work done by the McMaster will justify your faith in us.

Unfortunately Sir Frederick did not live to see the project completed. He became ill two months later, and died of pneumonia at Dalkeith on 28 November. His funeral service was held at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Macquarie Street, Sydney, and he was cremated at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium.

Among the tributes from prominent citizens of the day was one from the Federal Minister for External Affairs, the Hon. R.G. Casey:

Sir Frederick McMaster was a great Australian – he was a great leader in the pastoral industry, but apart from that he took a wide and responsible interest in Australian affairs. Among other things, he was widely and intelligently generous in his many benefactions. His death will be greatly regretted in Australia by a wide range of people.

Sir Samuel Hordern, former president of the Royal Agricultural Society and a personal friend, said:

His passing will be deeply mourned. He was a fine man, a great friend. His death is a great loss to the pastoral industry, of which he was one of the leaders. He was well known as a most progressive farmer and generous benefactor.

(Lady Muriel McMaster died in the Merriwa District Hospital in July 1967.)

Opening of the Ian McMaster Wing

Sir John Northcott, Governor of NSW, opened the new Ian McMaster Wing of the F.D. McMaster Animal Health Laboratory on 14 November 14 1956.

But even the extended laboratory eventually became too small. By the late 1980s, the laboratory was showing its age, and the Division had outgrown the original site on the Sydney University in Glebe. In the face of some controversy, CSIRO sold the original laboratory and extension to the University, and moved to modern new laboratory facilities at Prospect, in Sydney’s west.

Even before Sir Frederick donated the funds that allowed the new wing to be added to the laboratory, he had made provision for one more enormously generous gift to CSIRO. In his Will, dated 23 October 1953, he bequeathed a parcel of 40,000 shares to be passed, to CSIRO upon the death of his daughter.

He also made a residual bequest of 20,061 shares to be used to pay his funeral and testamentary expenses, and which would then pass to CSIRO. As it turned out, these expenses were covered by a loan from F.D. McMaster Pty Ltd to Sir Frederick’s estate, with the dividends from the extra shares subsequently being used to repay the loan.

The Sir Frederick McMaster bequest

Sir Frederick had assumed that CSIRO would become the major or sole shareholder in F.D. McMaster Pty Ltd, and use Dalkeith to demonstrate the animal husbandry techniques that he himself had practised so successfully. But the arrangement did not eventuate, because Sir Frederick’s daughter and sole heir, Thelma McMaster, wanted to keep Dalkeith.

Thelma made several offers to CSIRO to buy the shares, but the transaction did not take place until 1960. At its 14 November meeting, the Executive decided to set aside Sir Frederick’s original wish and sell both the equitable and residual shares to Thelma McMaster ‘ Sydney University had already accepted her similar offer to buy the 40,000 shares it held in trust as part of the Ian McMaster bequest.

Under the terms of the Will, CSIRO could use the proceeds from the sale of the shares as capital, or employ the interest as a regular source of income. It decided on the latter course, ensuring the money would continue to support the McMaster Laboratory’s research, consistent with Sir Frederick’s last wish.

Death of Miss Thelma McMaster

After her father’s death in 1954, Thelma McMaster began developing Dalkeith as a Hereford and Poll Hereford Stud on Dalkeith, but maintained the Merino breeding enterprise that had been her father’s lifelong passion. She never married, and died on 12 December 1980.

1984: McMaster Trust established

CSIRO’s Corporate Finance Branch has managed the Trust Fund since 1960. In 1984, part of the income from the investments was capitalised to maintain the bequest’s value. The total was $1,050,00, and the Executive decided that the interest of approximately $125,000 a year should be used to fund a new McMaster Fellowships scheme, under which distinguished overseas scientists would work in CSIRO Divisions for a period, in the fields of veterinary science, agriculture and biology. The average fellowship was expected to be between $20-25,000.

Relocation of the McMaster Laboratory

In 1994, CSIRO Animal Production decided to close the original F.D. McMaster Laboratory at Sydney University. It sold it to Sydney University for $3 million, and the university refurbished the old building to accommodate staff from its School of Veterinary Pathology.

The McMaster name, and the funds from the sale, was transferred to a new $8.2 million research laboratory, with associated animal pens and a post-mortem facility, at its Prospect research centre in western Sydney. The first staff moved into the laboratory in December 1994, and it was officially opened on 16 June 1995, by the Hon. Ted Lindsay, Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

Closure of Prospect, consolidation of livestock research

Just five years later, in 2000, the CSIRO Executive ordered a major review of the Organisation’s livestock research infrastructure. It recommended that all CSIRO’s research into animal health and production throughout subtropical and temperate Australia be integrated within a new Division, CSIRO Livestock Industries (CLI), headquartered in Brisbane, but with laboratories in other centres.

The new Division will comprise the former Divisions of Animal Health, Animal Health and the livestock-related elements of CSIRO Tropical Agriculture. The Division will have its administrative headquarters in the new Institute for Molecular Biosciences, which it operates jointly with the University of Queensland on the university’s campus at Indooroopilly, in Brisbane.

The review recommended the closure of the former Division of Animal Production’s McMaster Laboratories at Prospect; the future of the laboratories and the Prospect site has yet to be determined, but the land and laboratories will probably be sold off.

Sir Frederick McMaster’s legacy will be perpetuated by renaming the former Division of Animal Production’s Pastoral Research Laboratories at Armidale the McMaster Laboratories. As part of the new Division of Livestock Industries, Armidale will become the new focus for research parasite diseases of livestock, reflecting the purpose for which the original McMaster Laboratory was constructed.

The new Division will also have research centres in Rockhampton, Geelong, and Perth, as well as in Brisbane. Staff from the McMaster Laboratories at Prospect will be relocated to the various laboratories according to their research specialisations, with 20 research positions involved in integrated parasite control being transferred to the new McMaster Laboratories at Armidale.

Frederick McMaster’s legacy to the Australian livestock industries

It is 46 years since Sir Frederick McMaster’s death, but the grazing industry ‘ indeed all Australians ‘ owe a great debt to the Master of Dalkeith.

His original gift to CSIR in 1929, for the construction of the Division of Animal Health’s first laboratory, located at Sydney University, marked the beginning of a new era of veterinary research in Australia, that saw Australia forge an international reputation for excellence in veterinary research.

Sir Frederick was a man who believed himself blessed by God and good luck. His favourite saying, inscribed on a sign at the entrance to the Dalkeith homestead, is both a statement of his philosophy and an augury of its benefits:

We lose what we keep,

We have what we share,

And what we have given

We find everywhere.


  • Daly, D, 2000, Unpublished biographical manuscript.