Thursday, 27th September 1928

27th September, 1928


My dear Prime Minister,


The day before yesterday Casey [1] informed me that he had received a further cable from you in which you intimated that it was now felt that the most satisfactory arrangement in regard to Theiler [2] and Orr [3] would be if Australia could obtain the complete services of Theiler and that, in this case, it would not be necessary to make special arrangements in regard to Dr. Orr.

It so happened that I had arranged for Walter Elliot [4] and Sir Charles Nathan [5] to lunch with me yesterday and, without mentioning the fact that a further cable had been received from you, I steered the conversation in the direction suggested by your wire and we had a very interesting discussion.

Sir Charles Nathan was very impressed with Elliot’s grasp of the situation. The upshot of the discussion was that Elliot said that, as an administrator responsible for Scottish agriculture, and as the Chairman of the Research Grants Committee of the Empire Marketing Board with a very large number of problems connected with Animal Husbandry in many parts of the Empire to consider, he would be glad to see a solution which relieved him of having to loan Orr’s services to Australia for any considerable period.

Looking at the position from an Australian point of view, he felt, however, that even if Australia obtained the whole time services of Sir Arnold Theiler, it would still be wholly desirable that an arrangement could be made whereby Orr should visit Australia perhaps twice during the next five years. He pointed out that Theiler and Orr were men who could get along together very well indeed.

Elliot promised to give us the fullest possible support in an arrangement whereby Theiler should take up an Australian appointment. He strongly reasserted the desirability of a clause in an agreement with Theiler whereby Theiler, after being appointed to the staff of the C.S.I.R., should be made available for Imperial purposes for (say) 8 months in each 24.

Elliot expressed the view that such an arrangement would be regarded as a definite contribution towards cooperation in inter- imperial agricultural research on the part of Australia and he thought it would also be highly advantageous from a purely Australian point of view, because it would keep Theiler in touch with workers throughout the British Empire and that Australia would gain in that way more than she would lose from the temporary absences of Theiler.

Of course I fully understand the difficulties of the Commonwealth Council in regard to Dr. Orr. Brailsford Robertson’s [6] view of what is necessary in Animal Nutrition work in Australia is fundamentally different from the point of view of Dr. Orr. I have, however, the most profound conviction that at least so far as the immediate practical objectives are concerned, Dr. Orr is right and Professor Brailsford Robertson is wrong. By this I do not for a moment intend to suggest that, over a long period of years, Professor Brailsford Robertson’s work may not prove of very great value. It would be presumptuous on my part to make any such suggestion but Brailsford Robertson himself acknowledges that it will be at least four or five years before the work on which he is engaged can have any direct and practical bearing upon the various branches of the Australian pastoral industry; whereas the application of the nutrition work of the Rowett Institute to Australian conditions can, I am convinced, effect dramatic changes in Australia’s economic position within a very short period.

Yesterday I saw Ormsby-Gore [7] who stated that he was personally prepared to agree to Theiler being appointed to Australia a year hence but thought it would be very advantageous if Theiler could occasionally be released for ad hoc jobs in other parts of the Empire. He told me, however, that it would be necessary for me to see Amery [8] before cabling the views of the Colonial Office to Australia. Owing to the Conservative Conference at Yarmouth, I have not been able to arrange an appointment with Amery until Monday but directly after I have seen Amery, I shall cable to Rivett [9] giving him a full statement of the position in regard to Theiler.

My view is that, provided we can obtain Theiler’s services, we should let the matter of a further visit from Dr. Orr stand over for some months but that some arrangement should be come to whereby the Australian Pastoral Research can obtain the impetus which, I am sure no one is quite so qualified to give as is Orr.

While on this subject of research, I should like to impress on you how very desirable it would be for some arrangement to be made whereby Dr. Rivett could visit England in 1929. The General Election is practically certain to occur in May or June and directly after the result becomes known, the general policy in regard to inter-Imperial research activities will be reconsidered.

Personally I have no fear of any reversal of general policy in this direction whatever the result of the elections, unless the impossible happened and the Liberals secured a working majority.

As soon as the political strain of the elections is over, the reconsideration of large scale research questions will become possible and it would be a very great advantage to have Dr. Rivett here. I also understand that Dr. Rivett has felt the strain of the new administrative responsibilities which he has undertaken and a visit to this country would be useful both to him and to the general work of the Commonwealth Council.


Sir Charles Nathan has had several conversations with me and also with Mr. Collins [10] and Casey on this subject. Last night he had us all and also Colonel Manning [11] to a dinner at which the subject was discussed at great length. At the conclusion of the dinner they all asked me to put the result of the conversation into a memorandum to serve as a basis for a discussion which Sir Charles Nathan hopes to have with you on his return. We were all agreed as to the need for a radical change in the present publicity methods at Australia House. I am, however, writing to you under separate cover on certain aspects of this question.


After further conversations with members of the British Delegation who were emphatic as to the desirability of Australia being effectively represented at the General Assembly on this occasion, I sent you a cable through the High Cornmissioner [12] asking you to refer to my letter of the 17th August [13] in which I clearly set out the position and suggesting that I should be appointed as the Australian representative. I am anticipating a reply from you today.


The result of the Cheltenham By-Election was announced last night and, in a way, it is distinctly interesting. At the last Election, when as you know the Liberal Party was at the lowest ebb that it has been for very many years, the sitting Tory member secured the seat with about 2,000 majority. On this occasion it was a three- cornered fight and the Conservative got in with a 3,000 majority, polling 10,000 votes against the Liberals 6,000 and Labour 3,000.

There is, therefore, no sign of any real change.

Another By-Election at Tavistock is pending which may give some further interesting indications.

So far as I am able to judge, intelligent people of most parties are very disturbed over the British Government’s foreign policy as indicated by the discussions at Geneva and by the publication of the secret naval arrangement with France. [14] There is a very strong feeling that we are being dragged at the chariot wheels of France with a considerable loss of dignity and without any compensating advantages from a British or an Empire point of view.

Questions of foreign policy are, of course, not my concern but I cannot help feeling that it would be a very desirable thing if the British Empire could be more frequently in line with the desires and sentiments of the nations with a standard of political morality approaching our own, namely the countries of Scandinavia and Holland rather than occupying a very difficult position in relation to France and her satellites particularly Poland.

The present situation seems to be forcing us into an anti-American position which does appear to have elements of real danger. The naval mess seems to make it probable that Great Britain will be forced into spending more money on naval construction-a most undesirable result.

If the countries of the British Empire at Geneva and elsewhere could cultivate the friendliest understandings with the Northern European countries, one cannot help feeling that this would, in the course of time, result in a new attitude as between England and America. It appears to me vitally important, not only from an international but also from an Imperial standpoint that Great Britain should appear in the right moral camp at Geneva. By the exercise of a certain amount of wisdom on the part of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, I believe that the attendances of the more disgruntled parts of the Empire at Geneva as State Members of the League can actually become a unifying force in the Empire. To many this idea would sound paradoxical but after all when representatives of a State of the standing of (say) South Africa arrive at Geneva for the Assembly or for a meeting of (say) an Economic Conference, they find that they are of little significance or weight unless they are associated with some Group.

For many reasons (and mainly economic ones) South Africa and Ireland cannot align themselves with Groups other than the British Empire Group. It appears to me quite conceivable that, over a period of four or five years, those responsible for the Government of South Africa and Ireland might, through association in a British Empire Group at Geneva, come to realise, in a practical way, the value of the British Empire to themselves.

This is a subject to which I will return in the near future but I am quite sure you will not have time to read long screeds about rather far-off objectives until after the turmoil of the General Election is over.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 R. G. Casey, Commonwealth Government’s Liaison Officer in London.

2 Sir Arnold Theiler, Director of Veterinary Education and Research in South Africa until his retirement in 1927.

3 J. B. Orr, Director of the Rowett Institute for Research in Animal Nutrition, Aberdeen.

4 Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Scotland; Chairman of the Research Grants Committee of the Empire Marketing Board.

5 West Australian businessman; Vice-Chairman of the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission 1926-27.

6 T. Brailsford Robertson, Professor of Physiology, University of Adelaide; Chief of the Division of Animal Nutrition, Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. See note 7 to Letter 174.

7 William Ormsby-Gore, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies.

8 Leopold Amery, Secretary for the Colonies and for Dominion Affairs.

9 David Rivett, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

10 J. R. Collins, Financial Adviser to the Australian High Commissioner.

11 C. H. E. Manning, Director of Migration and Settlement, Commonwealth of Australia.

12 Sir Granville Ryrie.

13 Letter 183.

14 Bilateral negotiations between Britain and France in 1928 aimed to break an impasse which had defeated the 1927 Three-Power Naval Disarmament Conference. Under the terms of a proposed Anglo-French Compromise, the two nations agreed to accept limitations on tonnage for four classes of naval vessels, excluding smaller craft, and British representatives agreed to accept the French view that trained reservists should be exempted from estimates of military strength. The Compromise was announced in the House of Commons on 30 July, but was abandoned in view of strong American and Italian objections presented late in September. The matter was blown out of proportion by inaccurate speculation on the terms of the Compromise before the proposals were made public in a White Paper (Cmd. 3211) on 23 October.