SIR MALCOLM FRASER, W.A. CIVIL ENGINEER & ADMINISTRATOR (1834-1900)
This official stampless cover, ‘On Public Service’ was addressed to The Hon. Malcolm Fraser C.M.G., Colonial Secretary’s Office, Government Buildings, Perth and was postmarked with a duplex PERTH/ NO 19/ 1885/ WESTERN AUSTRALIA, G.P.O. There were several manuscript additions, with a handstamp [Crown]/ PAID marking (Figure 1).
Sir Malcolm Fraser (1834-1900), civil engineer and administrator, was born in Gloucestershire, England, son of William Fraser of Clifton. He was a surveyor in the province of Auckland in 1857-59, district surveyor in the Native Land Purchase Department in 1859-63, district surveyor on the Canterbury West Gold Fields in 1863-67 and chief surveyor for Westland Gold Fields in 1867-69. All these positions were held in New Zealand, and he also won repute as a naturalist.
In 1870 he was recommended by Governor Weld of Western Australia for appointment as surveyor-general for the state, in succession to J.S. Roe. He reorganized the department, reducing the number of permanent staff to those officers competent in geodesical and trigonometrical surveying and relegated the pegging and traversing work to be done by private surveyors. The permanent staff became inspectors and conducted a large scale trigonometrical survey, when completed in the late 1880s, connected all the coastal regions of W.A. from the Kimberleys in the north to the Esperance district in the south.
Fraser also raised the entrance standards for the surveying profession and with the help of his deputy, John Forrest, made the Crown Lands Office the most efficient, economical, corruption-free and revenue-producing of the government departments. Fraser also encouraged inland exploration and advised the government on the engineering problems in proposals for building government and private railways.
In 1870 Fraser became a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils and in 1872 he was given the additional post of commissioner of crown lands. As Colonial Secretary in 1883-90 he was the senior member and governor’s spokesman in the Legislative Council. When in 1889 Governor Napier Broome was away in London for important colonial meetings, the now Sir Malcolm Fraser (whose previous C.M.G. of 1881 had been upgraded to K.C.M.G. in 1887) was appointed as Administrator of the colony, up until the new Governor Robinson was installed in 1890. He made few enemies in his long administrative career, and his critics merely noticed that he was no exemplar of plain living.
In 1890 he retired to London on a pension and was recommended by the first Premier pf W.A., Sir John Forrest, for the appointment as W.A. agent-general in England, a post he held until 1898. Aged 66, he died at Clifton on 17 August 1900, predeceased by his wife Elizabeth whom he had married in New Zealand in 1861. His portrait is shown in Figure 2.
The on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography was used in preparation of this paper.