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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Willmott, Francis Edward Sykes (1870–1941)

by Betty Carter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Francis Edward Sykes Willmott (1870-1941), orchardist and politician, was baptized on 21 August 1870 at Kirkley, Suffolk, England, son of Rev. Henry Willmott and his wife Anne Maria, née Sykes. Francis was educated at Hurstpierpoint, Sussex. After being rejected for the army, in 1886 he came with his brother to Western Australia for farming experience. Having spent two years on Edmund Brockman's property in the south-west, Willmott was variously a tutor, drover, prospector and stockman in the Gascoyne and the eastern goldfields. On 8 April 1896 at St Mary's Church, Busselton, he married Brockman's daughter Frances Edith. Willmott farmed briefly before becoming a supervisor on the construction of the Coolgardie-Esperance road, and on the water-supply works at the goldfields and Mundaring weir. He was government forest ranger (1897-1914) in the south-west where he acquired his orchard, Applewood, at Bridgetown.

In 1914 Willmott won the Legislative Assembly seat of Nelson, the newly formed Country Party's only seat outside the wheat-belt. When he replaced the pro-Laborite James Gardiner in March 1915 as parliamentary leader of the party, the change was deemed to give Alexander Monger, the assertive president of the Farmers and Settlers' Association, greater influence in promoting a more conservative alliance. Though more amenable than Gardiner, Willmott stood firm on certain issues, often supporting Labor and countering undue F.A.S.A. pressure. With Gardiner and C. F. Baxter, he was censured for accepting—without party approval—a ministerial position in June 1917 in (Sir) Henry Lefroy's National coalition government; in 1918 he was publicly admonished by Monger for inadequate involvement in Country Party affairs. Willmott remained a minister without portfolio under (Sir) Hal Colebatch and (Sir) James Mitchell until 13 April 1921. In that year Willmott lost the parliamentary leadership of his party which opted for a leader unencumbered by government responsibilities.

In May 1921, shortly after losing Nelson to an Independent, he won the Legislative Council seat of South-West Province from the endorsed Country Party candidate. As a 'Mitchell government supporter', Willmott admitted having 'many enemies' within his party and blamed the party's refusal to pre-select him on his long-standing refusal to promote the interests of Westralian Farmers Ltd in parliament. In 1923 he condoned the Country Party's executive decision not to re-endorse four sitting members for the 1924 election, a move which contributed to a major split in the party. He lost his seat in May 1926.

Noted for his 'jovial and happy nature', Willmott became involved in property development at Bridgetown. A sometime president of the West Australian Fruit Growers' Association, he was a director of South-West Co-operative Dairy Farmers Ltd. In failing health, he retired to Busselton in 1938. Survived by his wife, daughter and three sons, Willmott died on 29 January 1941 at Subiaco, Perth, and was buried with Anglican rites in Bridgetown cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. D. Graham, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties (Canb, 1966)
  • Periscope, 11 July 1919
  • Blackwood Times, 27 May 1921, 7 Feb 1941
  • West Australian, 15, 16, 19 Aug 1918, 5, 31 July 1919, 25 May 1921, 30 Jan 1941
  • D. W. Black, The National Party in Western Australia, 1917-1930: Its Origins and Development with an Introductory Survey of ‘Liberal’ Party Organisation, 1901-1916 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1974).

Citation details

Betty Carter, 'Willmott, Francis Edward Sykes (1870–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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