History of West Australia/Henry Bruce Lefroy

HENRY BRUCE LEFROY, J.P., M.L.A.

"HAPPY the man whose son lives after him" is an old an homely proverb, which, like all proverbs that deserve a thought, is pregnant of a larger truth than it so tersely expresses. What the axiom in its wider application is intended to somewhat cynically convey is that it is comparatively rare for a father, who has distinguished himself by his intellectual power or business talents, to have an heir who can worthily fill his place when, full of years and honours, he is laid to rest. Charles Dickens, in his delightful story of "Dombey and Son," touchingly exhibits the ardent aspiration which must be keenly felt by every parent approaching the winter of life who sees the strength of his younger days reproduced in his eldest born in the male line. But common experience shows how often this pride and hope is destroyed by a scapegrace, or by one who becomes a mark for reproach and derision in the person of an addle-pated fool. But happy the man whose son lives after him in the fullest sense of the word—in force and probity of character—as well as in physical proportions, and who, when the sire has retired from the more active pursuits of life, is able to take the prominent and honoured place in the world, and in the control of estates, which for many years the head of the family held and exercised himself.

Henry Bruce Lefroy HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.
H.B. LEFROY, M.L.A.

Henry Bruce Lefroy, son of the Hon. O'Grady Lefroy C.M.G., for thirty-six years in the Public Service of Western Australia, was born in Perth in 1853, and was sent to England to be educated at Rugby. There he did a great deal for the honour of his colony, not only in taking a creditable place in his classes, but as an athlete, whose colours were to the front in many a doughty contest. To distinguish oneself in any display of prowess on the classic fields of Rugby, where the Duke of Wellington said the battle of Waterloo was won—meaning that it was there the officers in manly sports developed the dash, stamina, and courage that led the British Army to the greatest victory of the century—was an achievement of which any young Australian might feel proud. As a Rugby boy Mr. Lefroy won laurels as an all-round athlete. During the years that he was pursuing his studies at that famous home of scholarship, namely, between the ages of fourteen and nineteen he was facile princeps as a cricketer and footballer, while on the running track his fleetness of foot and endurance gained him much renown. He returned to the colony a well-graced stripling both in mind and person in 1872, and found plenty of exercise for his energy and fine physique in taking up the management of his father's station, "Walebing," in the Victoria Plains, some account of which is given in the pages devoted in this work to the life of the Hon. Anthony O'Grady Lefroy who resigned the control of the property in order to accept a civil appointment under the Imperial Government in the colony. At the early age of twenty-one the Government recognised the calibre and exceptional educational acquirements of Mr. Henry Bruce Lefroy by placing him upon the Commission of the Peace, and he is now the leading honorary magistrate in the Moore district; assiduous in the discharge of the duties of that office, and extolled for his enlightened and impartial administration of justice. Under his superintendence "Walebing" became one of the best pastoral properties of Western Australia; conspicuous for the discretion with which improvements were carried out, the superior quality of its stock, and the large income which it produces. The estate consists of 160,000 acres; carries 12,000 sheep, 150 head of cattle, and 50 horses. The Lefroy family, when they selected this goodly estate, were the pioneers of the Victoria Plains district, which was first penetrated by the Hon. Anthony O'Grady Lefroy when, on his arrival in the colony, he went out in search of desirable pastoral country, and no one can speak with more authority of its changed condition to-day than Mr. Henry Bruce Lefroy, who has done more than his share of the public work of civilising it. For twenty years he has been chairman of the Victoria Plains Roads Board, and chairman of the local Board of Education, while at the same time he has never failed to manifest an active interest in every movement which had for its object the advancement of that division of the colony or of the people of every class who reside in it. Almost from the date of his return from England he had been looked upon as the coming representative of the Moore in Parliament, but until the introduction of Responsible Government, Mr. Lefroy showed no disposition towards legislative life. When in 1893 Mr. Randell resigned his seat as representative of that district in the Assembly, Mr. Lefroy yielded to the solicitations of his friends, and was elected. The constituency of the Moore is one of the largest in the colony, covering no fewer than 10,000 square miles of territory, and occupied by farmers and graziers; the Roads Board has to accept the responsibility of making and maintaining roads traversing 4,400 miles of country. In the Legislative Assembly Mr. Lefroy made so good an impression that, although he is one of the youngest members of the House, he was asked to represent the colony, with Sir John Forrest, Sir James G. Lee Steere (Speaker of the Legislative Assembly) and the Hons. J. W. Hackett and Silas Pearse, at the Federal Council which was held at Hobart in 1895. Not long after his return from that important embassy he exerted himself to put upon a satisfactory basis the defective fencing law of Western Australia, which the Government had made several abortive attempts to improve. Mr. Lefroy tabled a motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to enquire into the subject, and to frame a bill that would be suitable to the conditions and requirements of both pastoral and agricultural properties, and in the course of his lucid and practical speech in submitting this proposal to the House he exhibited such a mastery of his text that the Assembly unanimously appointed the Select Committee, of which Mr. Lefroy was made chairman. The Committee having sat through the recess submitted a Fencing Bill during the ensuing session of Parliament, and at the time of writing the measure had been read a second time. Although it is more than twenty years since Mr. Lefroy handled a bat on behalf of Rugby, his love of manly sport burns as bright as ever. It is said that wherever two or three Englishmen are gathered together they will play a game at cricket. Mr. Lefroy has shown that wherever an athletic Australian and ex-collegian can find only blackfellows as batsmen and bowlers he will mould them into a very serviceable team. The dusky eleven Mr. Lefroy has from time to time brought to Perth and Fremantle from Bishop Salvado's New Norcia Mission Station have, under his captaincy, given a good account of themselves in the presence of large and fashionable gatherings of spectators. The quickness of the hand and eye and the agility of the coloured races make them apt pupils on the cricket field, as was well exemplified in the last tour when the Australian Eleven found one of their most redoubtable opponents in the Indian Prince of the long name, which the world found life too short to pronounce at any greater length than "Smith." The performances of Mr. Lefroy's ebony players further proved that in stopping a shooter or cutting a ball to the boundary the children of the soil are fully the equal of the white usurper.

In politics Mr. Lefroy is a conservative if Sir John Forrest may be said to be one, but conservatism of this complexion may be said to be liberalism that stops short of communism. The member for the Moore is a strong supporter of the Forrest Government, although, at the opening of the 1896 session of Parliament, when he was called upon to move the address-in-reply, he, at the first sight of the vice-regal speech, seemed to think that the Ministerial programme of public works, which at one stroke asked the House to double the public debt was one that called for a good deal of reflection. However, he was in due time convinced that the bold and progressive policy of the Cabinet was a wise one, and he has accordingly assisted to carry it into effect. At the same time, in the debate on the second reading of the Waterworks Bill, he exhibited a commendable breadth of view in thanking those who were opposed to that measure for so fully expressing themselves against the scheme. Having the evidence of both sides before him, he had been able to weigh it impartially, as such momentous issues demanded, and come to what he felt to be the right conclusion, that it was imperatively necessary that the goldfields should be provided with an adequate and permanent supply of water. Mr. Lefroy's conscientious sense of duty and regard for the public interests is known. He is a brother-in-law of the Hon. Edward Horne Wittenoom, Minister of Mines, through his marriage with Miss Rose Wittenoom, daughter of Mr. Charles Wittenoom, J.P.; but in spite of this relationship, or perhaps by reason of it, the member for the Moore is always, as his thoughtful speeches show, scrupulous in regard to every vote which he casts in favour of the Forrest Government.

[In May, 1897, Mr. Lefroy became Minister of Education in the Forrest Cabinet.—Ed.]