Frederick Coleman (1865 – 1951) [by Charles Stevenson]

An astonishing phenomenon about South Australian Friends of the 1860s and 1870s was the number of children who became devoted members of the Society of Friends, without any such group as Young Friends to bind them together. Outstanding among these birthright Friends was Frederick Coleman. He was the youngest son of the revered Lucy Coleman. His father, Arthur Coleman, died when Frederick was two years old.

Frederick Coleman filled many important positions in Australian Quakerism. He was Clerk of South Australian Friends 1918-1922 and 1929-1932, Clerk of the General Meeting for Australia (now Australia Yearly Meeting) 1920-1925, and Treasurer of the General Meeting from 1926 until his death in 1951. By 1930 he had attended every sitting of the General Meeting since its inception in 1902. His first service was as a boy, lighting the fire before meeting in the Mount Barker meeting house.

He spent his school years in England where the mother took her five children to be educated. Frederick went to Bootham school, outside York. He liked to recall that while all the boys in the boarding school planted bright flowering annuals in their allotted small plot, he planted an ash tree. This practice continued, and by the end of his life he had planted over 600 trees along the roadside approaches to Saddleworth, on the recreation ground, and in the town of Saddleworth itself, as well as over 1000 on his farm property, Tuela.

Frederick Coleman was a farmer. He grew wheat and kept dairy cattle. Studies at the University had given him a taste for close observation and experiment. He put this to good use on the farm, particularly as a wheat breeder. This was done in conjunction with the Waite Research Institute and with William Farrer, the wheat expert from New South Wales. Coleman’s own wheat variety, Onas, became widely grown in Australia and was introduced into the United States. His Jersey herd established a commendable reputation relative to other Jerseys in South Australia, winning numerous prizes, and indeed producing far higher than average butter-fat within the SA dairy industry. Coleman was responsible for experimenting with different grasses. Tuela became one of the show places of the Lower North.

For thirty?seven years he was a member of the Advisory Board of Agriculture, and served two terms as President. He was also a member of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society, and of the Governing Board of Roseworthy Agricultural College. In Saddleworth he served as President of the Institute and Chairman of the District Council.

In a paper ‘My Doings on the Land’ Frederick Coleman wrote in 1950:

Believing as I do that the future of Australia lies in the development of a more numerous population of industrious and well trained intelligent people on the land, who as tillers of the soil will win from it a wealth that will help to build up a prosperous population, and it may be help the world to a higher standard of living and freedom from want.

In 1940 Frederick Coleman wrote to the Chief Justice who had just been appointed Australian Minister to Japan, that Australia should make a free gift of 2 million bushels of wheat to both China and to Japan. Existing stacks of wheat were almost unsaleable. It would, he said, be a friendly gesture that would help promote a friendly understanding and goodwill. Sir John Latham said he would make enquiries into the matter, but that was the end of a very Quakerly attempt to try to remove the causes of war.

At Tuela, Frederick and Helen (née Robson) Coleman entertained many visitors, and visiting Friends. Their hospitality became legendry. Margaret Thorp (later Watts) wrote in 1911:

I stayed up at Saddleworth with the Colemans at their wheat farm,. The first evening Helen Coleman let me come and help her make bred in their spacious kitchen, which typifies how Australian Friends take you into the midst of their home life almost at once. I thoroughly enjoyed that week, riding on horseback every day, rounding up sheep and obstinate rams, cantering over the paddocks and countryside myself, or with Nellie Carins in the evenings. – Father and mother came up for the weekend. On Sunday we had a very nice little meeting in the Coleman’s parlour.

Jean Rees wrote of Frederick Coleman:

He used to come from Saddleworth once a month to attend the Quaker Meeting at North Adelaide. It was there I used to see him. He was a big man, six feet tall. He had a high forehead, and his eyes, set wide apart, were thoughtful and searching. As a young girl I used to think it did me good merely to gaze at this face as he sat in meditation. He was an old man then, and his face reflected a lifetime of self?discipline and purposeful living, yet somehow he retained some of the vigour and freshness of youth. His manner was dignified ? perhaps a little reserved, but when he began to speak, the warmth of his personality came through.

A few months before his death, when giving a conference address, he concluded with these words:

I believe there is nothing of greater importance to the material welfare of the State than better facilities for developing a numerous, well?instructed and intelligent population on the land. We should be ever mindful of our stewardship of the soil, to leave it in a more fertile condition than it was when we took charge. Farming, with its many branches, is the most interesting as well as the most honourable calling of man.

One of the finest tributes to Frederick Coleman came from the proprietors of the Northern Argus (Clare) ‘We regret the demise of a sterling character, and great friend, and counsellor to many people in rural areas . . . we are proud of the association he had with this journal’.

Charles Stevenson


Advertiser (Adelaide) 13 March 1914; 25 Jan 1921; 6 Sept 1921; 17 Feb 1922; 12 Sept 1922.

Australian Friend, 20 June 1951; 20 Aug 1951; Oct 1951.

Circular Letter (of Adelaide Monthly Meeting), 4 Aug, 1931.

Coleman, F, My Doings on the Land. Unpublished memoir.

Correspondence between Frederick Coleman and Sir John Latham Aug 1940.

Enyclopaedia of South Australia ,Volume ii, 1909, pp 441-2.

‘Fifty Years in Agriculture’, Agricultural Journal (Adelaide) 1951.

Minutes of Australia General Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends held at Adelaide, 1925.

Northern Argus, (Clare), 6 June, 1951.

Observer (Adelaide): 5 Mar 1910; 26 Nov 1910 ; 13 & 20 Sept 1924; 8 Jan 1927.

Personal interviews with Watson Coleman.

Rees, J, Personalities remembered No. 32, Radio 5CL 10th January, 1971.

‘Testimony of the Religious Society of Friends to the grace of God in the life of Frederick Coleman’, Adelaide Monthly Meeting Minutes, July 1951.


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