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Macgregor, Lewis Richard (1886–1973)

by Denise K. Conroy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Lewis Richard Macgregor (1886-1973), agriculturalist and public servant, was born on 4 May 1886 at Hardway, Alverstoke, Southampton, England, son of Scottish parents Thomas Macgregor, corporal in the Royal Marines, and his wife Mary Anne (Polly), née Bartholomew. When Lewis was 2 his father died on military service. His mother took him to Scotland to live with relations, who were devout members of the Free Presbyterian Church, while she pursued her nursing career. Educated at a Glasgow primary school, Glasgow High and the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, Lewis was forced by ill health to leave college prematurely to recuperate in a rural environment.

After working as an agricultural labourer at Aberfeldie, Macgregor was indentured to a lawyer, Colonel Munro of Murthly, in 1901 and was trained in banking, insurance, local government, estate factorship, and stock and crop marketing in the management of various estates. In 1909 he became assistant general manager of the Gairkhata Estates, Bengal, India, attending to housing-construction, water-supply, roads, drainage, cultivation and manufacturing. He joined the Northern Bengal Mounted Rifles. In 1912 Macgregor followed the estates' chief engineer to Western Australia and became secretary and accountant to Hawter's orchards and nurseries near Bunbury, mastering every aspect of fruit-growing.

Describing himself as a 'typically impetuous, quick-tempered emotional Highland rebel', he married the calm Mary Hannah White, from Yorkshire, England, on 11 April 1914 at Kwelkan. That year he enlisted for military service but was declared medically unfit from past malaria.

'Mac' took up wheat-growing on his own account and became involved in rescuing co-operative companies from financial ruin by implementing effective marketing and management plans. After managing the developing co-operative scheme, he became chief inspector at Northam, then manager of Westralian Farmers Ltd, Perth. In 1917 Macgregor succeeded in securing sole wheat-acquisition rights for that organization. As secretary to the Western Australian Grain Growers' Co-operative Elevators Ltd, he originated the scheme of bulk wheat-handling. After he was sent to Europe in 1919 as representative of the Westralian Farmers' Co-operative Co. to inquire into the marketing of agricultural products, his reports were made available to the Australian Wholesale Co-operative Federation and the Commonwealth government.

In 1922 Macgregor became Queensland's highest-paid public servant as director of the Queensland Producers' Association, a body concerned with inaugurating marketing schemes based on primary producer control. With confidence and brusque common sense he collaborated with A. E. J. C. K. Graham in proposing and executing co-operative legislation, largely instigated by E. G. Theodore. Among others, the Primary Producers' Organisation and Primary Products Pools Acts of 1922 established the Council of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture and Stock. He viewed his Primary Producers' Co-operative Associations Act of 1923 as 'in advance of the South African legislation … hitherto … the best in the British Empire'.

Next year Macgregor assisted the Western Australian government in the preparation of its marketing legislation, a task which he also performed for the Tasmanian government. His confidential report in 1925 to the Western Australian minister for agriculture was based on his examination of the progress and impact on agriculture of the recent Queensland legislation. He cautioned against the multiplicity of Acts for different schemes and products (in 1923 Queensland had at least fourteen such Acts).

Despite initially vehement farmer opposition and the Brisbane Courier's editorial warning of a 'foretaste of the compulsion of Sovietism' in the proposed fruit-marketing legislation of late 1923, Macgregor managed to smooth the path for further primary producers' organization and marketing legislation in 1923-26. As director of marketing from 1926, he supervised all primary producer organizations, distinguishing himself with his ability to act as intermediary between farmer and consumer. His first published report (1928) set out some principles of agricultural marketing which still hold today. According to the historian A. A. Morrison, Macgregor's agrarian reforms profoundly influenced contemporary Queensland politics by undercutting support for the Country Party. Queensland's schemes for agricultural marketing were adapted in the United States of America and Britain.

On 31 March 1930 Macgregor was appointed trade commissioner to Canada by the Federal government. He was an adviser to the Australian delegation to the Imperial conferences in London (1930) and Ottawa (1932), negotiated the first commercial treaty between Canada and Australia, and led trade missions to Newfoundland (1932), British West Indies (1933) and the Union of South Africa (1937). Appointed C.B.E. in 1938, in 1938-41 he was Australian trade commissioner in North America.

During World War II he was director-general of the Australian War Supplies Mission in Washington and Ottawa. In 1945-49 he was Australian minister to Brazil. He led special missions for the United States government during the Korean war and to Western Europe in 1954.

In his remaining years Macgregor was engaged in private business in the U.S.A., attended Imperial and international conferences and continued to give advice on agricultural development. He reputedly had worked for ten Australian prime ministers and seven State premiers, with thirty-two governments and in fifty countries or territories; his autobiography British Imperialism; Memories and Reflections (New York, 1968), written for private circulation, lists his achievements, honours, associations and 'famous' contacts. He died on 1 March 1973 in Barbados, West Indies, survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power (Brisb, 1979)
  • Government Gazette (Queensland), 29 July 1922
  • Queensland Producer, 8 Dec 1926
  • Queensland Agricultural Journal, Aug, Oct 1922
  • Economic Record, Feb 1928
  • Queensland Heritage, 2, no 5 (1971)
  • Brisbane Courier, 21 July 1922
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 26 Aug 1922, 3 Dec 1926, 6, 12 Mar 1930
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 16 Sept 1922
  • Dept of Agriculture and Stock, L. R. Macgregor, personnel file (Queensland State Archives)
  • Director, Queensland Council of Agriculture, Confidential report, Perth, 23 Mar 1925, (Queensland State Archives)
  • Director of Marketing, Report 1928 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Denise K. Conroy, 'Macgregor, Lewis Richard (1886–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/macgregor-lewis-richard-7363/text12791, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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