The Agriculturist

Sir Frank Arthur Stockdale

Stockdale, Sir Frank Arthur (1883-1949), agriculturist, was born at Honington, Lincolnshire, on 24 June 1883, the eldest son of George Edmund Stockdale of Wood House, Elm, Cambridgeshire, whose ancestors had owned and farmed land in East Anglia for many generations. His mother, Eliza Rayson Farbon, was also of a farming family. Stockdale was educated at Wisbech grammar school and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he was a Holmes exhibitioner. He graduated BA in 1904. In 1905 he was appointed mycologist and lecturer in agricultural science in the imperial department of agriculture for the West Indies. He married, in 1908, Annie Dora (d. 1948), daughter of Lewis Packer, sugar planter, of Warrens, Barbados; they had two sons. In 1909 he was sent to British Guiana as assistant director of a new agricultural department, and in 1912 he went to Mauritius to form a similar department there. In 1916 he became director of agriculture in Ceylon where, during thirteen years of office, he gave the agricultural department a permanent organization which made it a model for others, and played a leading part in establishing rubber, tea, and coconut research institutions. From 1916 to 1928 he edited the Tropical Agriculturist.

An assumption that colonial economies should continue to be dominated by the export of cash crops, and a faith in Western scientific agriculture led in 1929 to the establishment of the colonial agricultural service with a colonial advisory council of agriculture and animal health, and a full-time agricultural adviser, a position to which Stockdale was appointed. He spent the next ten years touring the colonies, reporting on what he found and giving advice which reflected his ability to view agricultural problems in relation to the general economy and social conditions of the territory concerned. He consistently preached the dangers of dependence upon a single crop, the virtues of mixed farming, the disastrous effects of soil erosion, and the dangers of taking a short-term view in agricultural matters. These attitudes showed him to have been in many respects ahead of his time. He was a kindly, approachable, and imperturbable, if sometimes stubborn, leader. Although his early work showed that he might have made a considerable name as a pure scientist, Stockdale always regarded science as a means to an end—and that end the general welfare of the territories in which his work lay.

In 1940 Stockdale was appointed the first comptroller for development and welfare in the West Indies. He was responsible for the administration of grants from the United Kingdom amounting to £1 million a year, co-operating with the colonial governments concerned in the formation and execution of their plans for development, and in determining how the grants might best be used. These duties were coupled, after 1942, with those of co-chairman of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission.

Stockdale retained the office of comptroller until the end of the war, preferring it to the higher, purely administrative, post which he was offered. At the end of the war he returned to the Colonial Office as adviser on development planning. In 1948 he became vice-chairman of the new Colonial Development Corporation. His knowledge of the colonies and the goodwill he commanded throughout the empire were invaluable assets to the corporation. In 1948 he also became chairman of the governing body of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad, which he worked enthusiastically to develop.

Stockdale was appointed CBE in 1925, CMG in 1932, and promoted KCMG in 1937 and GCMG in 1945. He died at his home, 42 Marsham Court, London, on 3 August 1949.

From the Dictionary of National Biography

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