History of West Australia/Anthony O'Grady Lefroy


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IN the day of the prosperity of Western Australia it is an especial pleasure to write of the founders of the colony, of the men who through the long lean years antecedent to the discovery of gold did the State good service with unwavering fidelity, who were not to be tempted from their allegiance by the brighter fortunes of neighbouring states. Of these pioneers none had to face greater discouragements, and in many cases privations, than those who went out into the solitudes to reclaim the wilderness and to make homes upon the land. In developing the producing resources of the colony they had to be full of self-reliance, of tenacious courage, for the nascent Government could lend them no helping hand to smooth their early difficulties.

Every man of this advance guard of civilisation had to carve out his career, to prove his virile quality, if he were to maintain his foothold in the new country or to become the architect of his fortune. Railroads and bridges—the means of access to market—were unknown; the natives were troublesome, the soil comparatively poor; the rainfall so slight that most of the rivers were dry for more than half the year. Schools and telegraph communication could only be hoped for in the future. It was a serious undertaking to get stud sheep and cattle to stock a station, for the shipping trade was in its infancy; labour was scarce, profits small, the country unfenced and unimproved, and sometimes threatened with drought. It was necessary to build houses with the rudest implements and materials, sink dams to tide the stock over dry seasons, and tend the flocks and herds incessantly to save them from the natives' spears. Stores and wool had to be carted long distances over encumbered bush tracks. The stout-hearted pastoralist, fresh perhaps from a refined English home, and unaccustomed to toil, "roughed it" uncomplainingly, striving towards the reward he deserved so well. Of these "nation builders" who have triumphed it is superfluous to speak in terms of eulogy.

One of the most respected of those who fought the good fight and won it signally none are more respected, and few have left a more lasting and favourable impress upon the history of the colony than Anthony O'Grady Lefroy, C.M.G., son of the late Reverend Lefroy, of ancient lineage, vicar of Sentry, Dublin, Ireland, and nephew of the late Right Honourable Thomas Lefroy, ex-Chief Justice of Ireland. His mother, Dorothy O'Grady, was a daughter of The O'Grady of Kilballyowen. Anthony O'Grady Lefroy has had a long, notable, and varied career in Western Australia. He is one of the veterans who, if he could have found leisure for the task of keeping a diary, would have been able to make a highly valuable and useful contribution to the literature of this colony, for he has been a leading actor in all the historical epochs of her rise and progress. Born at Limerick in 1817, and desiring in early manhood a freer range for his vigour of mind and body than the old world afforded, he resolved to emigrate to Western Australia with a view of taking advantage of the liberal inducements which were then offered by the Government to those who possessed the necessary means and spirit of enterprise to become successful pastoralists. The colony having an ample public estate was anxious to obtain a desirable class of settlers—men who could add to the national wealth by stocking large areas to feed the people of the towns and create an export trade in wool. The young immigrant arrived here on the 6th January, 1843, and set himself to find a suitable location for his operations as a grazier. Coming from "the land of the green valley and the rushing river," the sandy coast districts did not please his experienced eye. He went further afield on an exploring expedition in the direction of what is now known as Victoria Plains. In this neighbourhood he had the good fortune to discover a fertile tract of country, the site of the celebrated "Walebing" Station of to-day. From 1844 till 1849 he was engaged in laying the foundations of one of the most eligible and lucrative sheep-raising properties of Western Australia.

In 1849 his talents and education attracted the attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Mr. O'Grady Lefroy was appointed private secretary to Captain Fitzgerald, Governor of the colony. The post gave hhn scope for the display of his ability for offices of trust in high civil employment, and promotion soon followed upon every occasion of a vacancy occurring. From being secretary to His Excellency the Governor he passed to the Chambers of Government, being appointed in 1851 clerk to the Legislative Council and the Executive Council. A still more striking mark of the confidence reposed in him was bestowed in January, 1856, when he became Treasurer of Western Australia. He was Acting Colonial Secretary from the 13th July, 1875, to the 20th August, 1877, while still continuing to hold the office of Treasurer. He was Colonial Treasurer until Responsible Government was granted to the colony on the 30th December, 1890, and on the introduction of the new constitution the Honourable Anthony O'Grady Lefroy, who had been created Companion of Michael and George in 1878, retired on a pension, after having been Colonial Treasurer for thirty-four years. During this time he had held a number of other positions which enabled him to serve the public interests, among which may be mentioned those of the Chairmanship of the Board of Education and Paymaster of Pensioners. He married on the 3rd June, 1852, Mary, third daughter of the late Colonel John Bruce, for years Military Commandant of Western Australia, and two sons and a daughter were born of the union. The eldest son, Mr. Henry Bruce Lefroy, who represents the Moore electorate in the Legislative Assembly, in 1880 married Rose Agnes Wittenoom, sister of the Honourable E. H. Wittenoom, Minister for Mines. The second son, Anthony Langlois O'Grady, died on the 20th January, 1877. There are three daughters, Mary, Dorothea, and Emily Elizabeth, the last of whom became in 1888 the wife of Mr. Arthur Henry Williams, chief clerk in the Postal Department.

The Honourable Anthony O'Grady Lefroy is one of the connecting links between the new and the old generations in Western Australia—between the government of Downing Street and the government by the people through the ballot-box. An officer who has grown old in the service of the Queen, he has witnessed a handful of colonists swell their numbers to a population of more than 100,000; he has seen one of the least regarded of Her Majesty's possessions expand into a wealthy and important colony, with an overflowing treasury and the fairest prospects. In the day of his strength he was one of the most politic of rulers; in his well-earned repose in the evening of his life he has the serene consciousness of having done his duty. A career so full of wise and loyal service to the Crown, so fruitful of the happiest results, and so blameless, entitles the Honourable Anthony O'Grady Lefroy, C.M.G., in the fullest measure to the simple yet expressive commendation—"Well done thou good and faithful servant"

[Since this sketch was written Western Australia has had to mourn the death of this respected pioneer.]