Wednesday, 2nd February 1927

2nd February, 1927


My dear Prime Minister,

In connection with the Chinese situation [1], I think you may be interested to hear the way in which John Burns [2] is said to have summed up the position. He said that to fight China would be like putting Dempsey [3] up to fight against a haystack but a haystack which contained large quantities of broken glass and scrap iron.


I sent you a typescript of my article for the ‘Times Trade Supplement’ and I now enclose a copy of the article itself. [4] Apparently among all the memoranda which have been prepared either by or for the Preparatory Committee will be documents of considerable interest and I have made arrangements through Fuhrman [5] to obtain copies. I hope to be able to send you some interesting extracts condensed in such a way as to give the meat without the padding at a later date.


You will remember that Lord Reading has become Chairman of the company which runs the ‘Daily Chronicle’. I am enclosing two cuttings from the ‘Daily Chronicle’ which I hope are indicative of Reading’s attitude towards Empire questions. It will be a distinct asset if we get amongst the ranks of the Liberal papers one which will maintain a consistent attitude in favour of Empire economic development.


Since I wrote you last mail, I have had an opportunity of discussing the geophysical cooperation proposals with Sir Frank Heath [6] and also with Walter Elliot. [7] I saw them quite separately and it was interesting to find that they both had the same idea. Each felt that the matter was of very considerable importance and one which might legitimately fall within the province of the Empire Marketing Board but they both felt that as it involved a new departure for the Empire Marketing Board, it was very undesirable that the Board should come to a hasty decision.

Both Heath and Elliot separately suggested that the Board should ask the Committee of Civil Research, which is, as you know, a Committee under the Cabinet and therefore a Secret Committee, to appoint a strong technical Sub-Committee to examine the whole question.

The matter came before the Research Committee of the Empire Marketing Board yesterday afternoon. Several of the members were opposed to the Board tackling a subject of this description at all but Walter Elliot, who was in the Chair, convinced them that it would be most desirable to have an expert Technical Committee under the Committee of Civil Research to go into the whole question of geophysical prospecting.

It was therefore decided that a recommendation on these lines should be made to the full Empire Marketing Board. The Board meets this afternoon and the matter will then come before it.


The ‘Times’ were anxious to get an article on this subject for their Canberra Supplement which will be issued on the day that the Duke of York opens the Federal Parliament House at Canberra. I have written an article for them, a copy of which is enclosed. I should like to suggest that you read this because I have touched, probably for the first time, on the question of the limitations of the Voluntary Preference idea.


I am forwarding five copies of the ‘Times’ reprint of Dr.

Shadwell’s article on this subject. [8]

3rd February


The Empire Marketing Board approved the proposal of the Research Committee that a strong Technical Committee should be set up to consider all the aspects of geophysical surveying and its importance to the Empire. The names of Sir Matthew Nathan [9], as a possible Chairman, and Sir Edgeworth David [10], as a possible member of this Committee were considered.

The attitude of the Board was that, while they would be prepared to cooperate with the Development & Migration Commission in any thorough field trials of the various methods of geophysical surveying, and, on a 50-50 basis would be prepared to conduct these trials in Western Australia, they felt that the purposes of the Annual Grant would be somewhat unduly stretched if the Board undertook cooperation in a survey of Australia’s mineral resources. I am cabling Gepp [11] today to this effect.


Yesterday’s meeting of the full Board was the first occasion on which Mr. J. H. Thomas [12] attended as a member and I am very glad to be able to tell you that he proved a most useful member, displaying very considerable zeal coupled with sound commonsense, which was somewhat refreshing. I do not think there can be any doubt that the move to include Labour in the personnel of the Empire Marketing Board and of its two Main Committees will prove not only a very sound piece of political strategy but also of substantial practical advantage in the work of the Board.

Major Walter Elliot brought before the Board the proposal that the Board should cooperate with the Commonwealth Government in the establishment of a Tropical Research Station in Northern Australia. Mr. Amery [13] referred to the letters that had been interchanged between yourself and himself on the subject and stated that you had said that the Commonwealth Government would welcome the appointment by the Empire Marketing Board of a representative on the Governing Body of the proposed Institute and the further appointment of a Correspondent in London who would be a liaison between the Queensland Research Station and the other Research Stations of Tropical Agriculture in the various parts of the Empire.

The Board approved of this recommendation without any further discussion. I am today sending you the following cable, as I think you may like to have this confirmation before you land in Australia:

Following from McDougall-Empire Marketing Board yesterday approved proposals for Research Station Tropical Agriculture Northern Australia on terms already discussed.


I am enclosing ‘Times’ report of a speech by Mr. J. H. Thomas on the Chinese situation, which I feel sure will interest you. [14] Mr. Ramsay MacDonald [15] is taking the attitude that, while he warmly approves of the line of negotiation which Chamberlain [16] has initiated, yet he roundly condemns the despatch of troops to China. There is an interesting article in today’s ‘Times’ on the moderate portion of the Labour Party’s attitude to MacDonald taking this line of country, which may also be of interest. [17]

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL



I saw Amery last night and mentioned to him that I was very disturbed about the long delay in getting the Imperial Economic Committee to work again. He enquired whether Mackinder [18] had yet returned and I told him that he was expected back this week.

He promised to look into the matter at once.

F. L. MCD.

_1 Following the invasion of central China by Nationalist forces and renewed violence in the foreign Concessions, British reinforcements were dispatched to China, particularly to protect British interests in Shanghai. The British Labour Party was divided on the issue, with the left wing strongly opposed to intervention.

2 Radical M.P. for Battersea 1892-1918; President of the Board of Trade 1914, but resigned on the declaration of war.

3 Jack Dempsey, world heavyweight boxing champion 1919-26.

4 See note 5 to Letter 90.

5 O. C. W. Fuhrman, Private Secretary to the Australian High Commissioner 1922-26, frequently served with Australian delegations at League of Nations meetings.

6 Secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and to the Advisory Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

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

8 Dr Arthur Shadwell, author and lecturer on social, economic and industrial matters. His article was published in nine parts in the Times, 17-26 January, and was reprinted as a pamphlet. It criticised the increasing manipulation of unions by a small class of officials, often under the influence of foreign ideas and organisations, and noted a growing resistance to this trend among unionists.

9 Governor of Queensland 1920-26.

10 Professor of Geology, University of Sydney, 1891-1924.

11 H. W. Gepp, Chairman of the Commonwealth Development and Migration Commission.

12 Labour M.P.; General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen; Colonial Secretary 1924.

13 Leopold Amery, Secretary for the Colonies and for Dominion Affairs; Chairman of the Empire Marketing Board. On 16 December 1926, Bruce, then still in London, wrote to Amery, reminding him that the Imperial Conference had supported a proposal that the Empire Marketing Board assist the establishment of a chain of agricultural research stations in the tropics and suggested northern Queensland as an appropriate location for the most easterly station, which might also serve Papua, New Guinea and British possessions in the South Pacific. He pointed out that the Commonwealth Government was anxious to develop agriculture in the north in order to encourage British subjects to settle there but that the station might also devote a large part of its attention to problems of animal husbandry in the tropics and develop liaison with the Australian School of Tropical Medicine. He proposed that the Empire Marketing Board share the cost (estimated at 25 000 initially and 5000 per annum) equally with the Commonwealth Government. Amery personally welcomed the suggestion, in a letter dated 20, December 1926. The letters are on file AA:A461, E302/1/1.

14 Times, 2 February. In a speech at Reading Town Hall on 1 February, Thomas had expressed support for the Government’s attempts to maintain peace in China.

15 Leader of the Labour Opposition.

16 Sir Austen Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary.

17 The article suggested that the moderates resented the apparent dictating of party policy by a left wing ‘with sentimental affiliations’ to communism and that they repudiated suggestions in MacDonald’s speeches that a Labour government would not have taken adequate measures to protect British interests.

18 Sir Halford Mackinder, Chairman of the Imperial Economic Committee.