Mike Roche

Canadian born University of Toronto forestry graduate L.M. (McIntosh)[1] Ellis was appointed as the first Director of Forests in the (New Zealand) State Forest Service in 1920, a position that he held till his resignation and departure to Australia in 1928. From then until to his death in 1941 Ellis worked as a forestry consultant with afforestation companies, ultimately finding employment with Australian Paper Manufacturers (APM). This paper seeks to recover the ‘lost years’ of his career in Australia and to view them from the vantage point of ‘imperial careering’.

‘Imperial careering’ is a term coined by geographers David Lambert and Alan Lester in studying careers spent overseas in the service of Britain’s Empire in the nineteenth century.[2] In line with their critique of simple metropole to periphery or periphery to metropole flows of people, commodities and ideas, the paper particularly considers trans-imperial movements. The focus is on forestry science which was an applied adjunct to existing studies of what Lambert and Lester refer to as ‘natural scientific study’.[3]

Lambert and Lester’s examination of ‘imperial careering’ shifts the discussion away from flows of information and commodities, but at the same time it is more than biography; ‘careers’ is forward looking whereas biography tends to have a retrospective feel. At the same time they also allow that ‘career…captures a sense of volition, agency and self-advancement, but also accident, chance encounter and the impact of factors beyond the control of the individual’.[4] To this they add two points. Firstly, that knowledge of trans-imperial careers can create new historical debates and unsettle old categories and secondly that they can produce new research agendas that substitute comparison for actual historical (dis)connections between imperial locations. At the same time, they concede that some networks were more powerful and empowering than others (for instance within the European tradition of scientific state forestry, sustained yield management of natural forests had more purchase than exotic afforestation). Finally, obliquely critiquing much old and new imperial history they note that, ‘Professional career, family obligations and love were intertwined, and a historiography that insists on separating them – especially separating professional from emotional – is likely to be incomplete’.[5]

To some extent Lester and Lambert’s ‘imperial careering’ intersects comfortably with Phil McManus, who used a variant of Actant-Network Theory (ANT) to reconsider the development of nature-forestry relations in Australia and Canada.[6] While the present paper largely focuses on human action, something that McManus in common with most advocates of ANT argues against, it endeavours to place Ellis in a wider network of forestry ideas. It does extend the approach taken by McManus in at least one way in that Ellis was not of the most senior of the imperial, European or and North America foresters; rather he was, apart from his time in New Zealand, more of a middle management figure. In consequence the careering and the networks also occupy a different stratum than that filled by many of individuals studied in detail in Lambert and Lester.

Using ‘imperial careering’ as a lens through which to study Ellis’ forestry career requires some temporal and spatial extensions of Lambert and Lester’s original concept. Ellis’ working career spanned from 1910 to 1941 whereas Lambert and Lester concentrate on the nineteenth century. In forestry terms, the centre of the Empire was originally India rather than Britain. Ellis’ career was, however, largely trans-imperial, being played out primarily in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It is the comparatively undocumented Australian years that are concentrated on here so that his fuller career can be understood.

The Pathway to New Zealand

Ellis’ pathway to the position of Director of Forests in New Zealand began with a degree in forestry from the University of Toronto where Bernard Fernow was Dean (1907-1919). Fernow represented a direct link to European forestry practices and came to the position after founding the first North American forestry school at Cornell.[7] There were few professional foresters in Canada at this time and Fernow set high academic standards and made strenuous efforts to heighten public awareness of the profession. As one of the first graduates, Ellis subsequently placed considerable weight on the Fernow connection; he had been taught by an internationally recognised figure in the forestry profession. Following graduation in 1910 Ellis worked for Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) as Assistant Superintendent of its Forestry Department, based in Calgary (Table 1). His duties were wide ranging and spanned forest management, protection, utilisation, silviculture, botany, and forestry economics. This included forest survey, reconnaissance and valuation work. He also spent time on fire prevention working plans, logging engineering, re-afforestation, and the preparation of forest working plans.[8]

In 1916 Ellis enlisted in the Canadian armed forces and served in France as Assistant Chief Forest Officer in the Forestry Division, rising to the rank of Captain. McKelvey has traced Ellis’ wartime forestry duties and concluded that he was impressed by French forestry practice with its ‘strict control of yields’ and ‘careful matching of land use to soil fertility,’ the range of forest products, and wider social goals so that revenues and wood volumes were not maximised at the expense of local communities.[9] Through his war time contacts with officers who later served on the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, Ellis joined its Forestry Division in June 1919. It was from here, barely a month later that he applied in July for the newly created Director of Forests position in New Zealand.

Table 1 Ellis’ Career Path in Forestry 1910 to 1941









Assistant Superintendent of Forests

First permanent job



Advisory Forestry Officer

Board of Agriculture


advancement, & experience



State Forest Service Director

Professional advancement, salary, opportunity to marry


Australia (NSW)

Technical Director Amalgamated Forests (Australasia Ltd), Queensland Forests Ltd and a forestry consultant

Salary and opportunity




Australia (NSW, SA, Vic)

Forestry consultant

Economic necessity




APM Timber Procurement Officer

Secure employment

Ellis in New Zealand

Following a successful interview in London in November, Ellis arrived in 1920 having married his American fiancé Ima [Adele] Dunn (1894-1983) in Seattle enroute to New Zealand. His appointment was the culmination of a long campaign by influential farmer politicians and tree planting enthusiasts and some key public servants to have a professional forester appointed to head an administratively independent forests department.[10]

On arrival Ellis produced a report on forest conditions in New Zealand that included recommendations for new forests legislation and the organisation of the new department. The challenges facing him were considerable and included concerns about a coming timber famine, a timber industry accustomed to paying minimal royalties for timber, and a farming sector that regarded forest land as potential farmland. Such legislation as there was to control forests management was outdated and fragmented. There were subsidiary problems related to fire as well as damage by browsing animals. On the other hand, early experimentation had shown that a range of exotic tree species grew easily and speedily in the New Zealand setting.

Under Ellis, the State Forest Service (SFS) initially sought to introduce a sustained yield management approach to the harvesting of indigenous forests. Almost in parallel, however, Ellis was taken with the possibilities that exotic plantation forestry offered in New Zealand. In 1923 he returned to Canada to represent New Zealand at the second Empire Forestry Conference.[11] On his return to New Zealand he wrote that, ‘it is evident that this Dominion leads the Empire, with the exception of India, in afforestation; in forest-tree nursery technique; and in plantation practise plus fire record and interest in community forests’.[12] In addition, with 400 cu ft/acre [28 cu m/ha] softwood increments, he claimed that New Zealand also led the Empire in terms of growth rates. Against this, he balanced lags in forestry education, forest research, and the application of sustained yield management to indigenous forests.[13]

On the basis of a national forest inventory of indigenous forests from 1921-1923, Ellis predicted that demand would exceed supply by the mid 1960s and quickly implemented a bold ten year 300 000 acre [121 403 ha] exotic state planting scheme. The state has been involved in tree planting since 1898, but Ellis’ plan was vastly larger in scale and envisaged a series of regional timber supply forests. Much of the planting was concentrated at Kaingaroa where ‘bush sick’ cobalt deficient Crown Land, uncontested by the farming sector, was available for planting.[14]

The private sector also quickly responded to the possibilities of growing mature timber within 25 years and a number of afforestation companies were formed to buy and plant freehold bush sick land adjacent to state forest lands in the central North Island. From about 1925 Ellis also actively contemplated that these state forests would form the basis of a pulp and paper industry; the prescience is more apparent when it is realised that it was not then known how to pulp Pinus radiata or whether it would even produce pulp suitable for newsprint. Ellis soon anticipated that ‘New Zealand must surely become the timber farm storehouse for Australasia, for in the growth, production, and exploitation of pine-fir softwoods timber forest crops she is unexcelled.’[15]

Ellis’ appointment was by three year contract, rather than as a permanent member of the public service. He faced ongoing frustrations over recompense for travel expenses. In addition some officials considered his estimates of the future harvest yields from exotic trees and the eventual extent of the afforestation programme excessive (Ellis speculated about 5 million acres [2.02mill ha])[16]. In December 1927, Ellis went privately to Australia to investigate job prospects. After his return, he was offered a further three year contract but with his £1000 salary fixed at 1920 levels. Ellis initially accepted this before resigning abruptly in early March 1928 effective from the end of the same month, to pursue ‘private proprietary timberland and afforestation activities in Australia and New Zealand’.[17]

Ellis in Australia

Ellis was 41 at the time he sailed to Sydney and returned to the private sector. His new employer was presumably able to offer an attractive salary, particularly by New Zealand public service standards. Ellis’ absence in Australia caused speculation amongst some of his staff that he was considering an afforestation job in Queensland; the salary was put at £1500.[18] Previously I have taken the view that Ellis, in keeping with his bold and outspoken character had suddenly resigned and departed. I now see his decision as more considered so that when the New Zealand government offer did not meet his needs (or when the Australian firm increased theirs) he opted for the position in Sydney. What is intriguing is the question of what interests Ellis intended to pursue in New Zealand – was he hoping to facilitate Australian involvement in the afforestation boom? But if it was a move made in haste it was to be repented at leisure for Ellis was never to emulate the success of his New Zealand career in Australia.

Upon his arrival in Sydney Ellis, took up a position with E.S. and E.C. Moulton, a Queensland registered finance and development company that among other things promoted bond selling afforestation companies. Ellis was involved simultaneously in the management of Queensland Forests Ltd and Amalgamated Forests (Australasia) Ltd, two of Moulton’s subsidiary companies. Moulton’s advertised Queensland Forests Ltd to potential investors in April 1928 in Smith’s Weekly, melding nationalist rhetoric about seeing ‘Australia completely self-supporting in timber and forest products’ to the possibilities of pulpwood production along with large scale afforestation schemes for north Queensland. Bond holders were promised £100 return for each £5 bond purchased.[19] Ellis was used in company promotion. Referred to by his wartime rank of Captain, he was extravagantly described in the press as ‘one of the greatest forestation experts within the Empire’ having been appointed to the New Zealand position because of his ‘international reputation’ and now was heading the company’s technical staff.[20] In advertising material published later in that year, Ellis having made an inspection tour of Queensland was quoted making lavish claims such as ‘Nature certainly intended this ideal region [of north Queensland] for the growth of high-quality timber and it has protection against forest fires’.[21] Ellis had identified some potential forest land for purchase by Queensland Forests near Johnstone River in North Queensland immediately after his arrival in 1928. This led unexpectedly to a major semi-commercial project in which Ellis had a financial stake. With typical flair he persuaded the company to go ahead with the formation of a 60 acre [24 ha] plantation of Tung trees (Aluerities fordii) at Johnstone River, even though it was not part of its original planting objective. Oil produced from Tung oil nuts was superior in many ways to Linseed oil and an important ingredient of paints and varnishes in the 1920s. Ellis had become particularly interested in this species immediately before leaving New Zealand.[22]

In 1929 Moulton’s floated Amalgamated Forests (Australasia) Ltd where Ellis was listed as both a director and Director of Technical Operations. In the latter role, he promptly investigated timber resources in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Melville Island in Northern Territory. Amalgamated Forests also bought 787 ac [318 ha] of forest in Queensland expecting to resell this for a four fold sum within five years. As Director of Technical Operations, Ellis was instrumental to these acquisitions. A further 2104 acres [826 ha] containing an estimated 5mill sp ft [11799 cu m] was purchased in the Johnstone Valley in Queensland.[23] The ‘Australasia’ part of the company name hints that the original plan may have included afforestation development in New Zealand, but this did not eventuate as general economic conditions deteriorated and raising capital by bond selling became more difficult. His hopes for brokering forestry initiatives in New Zealand were unrealised. He appears to have left Amalgamated Forests to work on his own account as a forestry consultant some time in the early to mid 1930s before joining APM in 1936. Throughout this time he undertook some independent consultancy work – a point he negotiated as part of his contract.[24] He also had a short-lived involvement in tobacco growing.[25]

Though he had left state forestry for private sector forestry Ellis continued to maintain a peripheral involvement in the former on both sides of the Tasman. From Australia he maintained an active interest in the forestry scene in New Zealand. This led him to vigorously oppose the proposed merger of the SFS with the Department of Lands and Survey in 1931. In a letter to Wellington’s Dominion newspaper, he mixed pleas of Empire and nationalism in forestry policy while positioning himself as, ‘one who loves New Zealand’ and predicting that it was ‘destined to be one of the chief tree depots of the Empire’.[26] This did not prevent him incurring official ire in New Zealand with his ‘fantastic estimates’ of an exportable surplus of 50mill sp ft [117 990 cu m] within a decade.[27] His expertise was also drawn on by Roy Vincent, the New South Wales Minister of Forests, when he was looking to restructure the state’s forest service in 1933, but Ellis operated mainly in the private sector.[28] Lane Poole, the Commonwealth Inspector-General of Forests who feared Vincent was backing away from a professional model for forestry vilified Ellis as ‘the Director of a discredited bond selling plantation company’.[29]

In 1934 Ellis returned to New Zealand to give evidence before the Commission of Inquiry into the bond selling methods of afforestation companies.[30] This was to be his last trip to New Zealand. Ellis expressed the opinion of most professional foresters in Australia when he spoke against the excesses of this form of forestry promotion. When new company’s legislation curtailing bond selling was enacted in NSW early in 1935, Ellis expressed his pleasure to Dr Howe, the Dean of the Forestry School at Toronto, noting that, ‘I have been battling for this for years and take credit for getting legislation down’.[31] This possibly overstated Ellis role.

Sinclair indicated that Ellis was sent by APM to South Australia around 1934-1935 to investigate whether it would be possible to secure thinnings from plantation forests to supplement its mill supplies.[32] In the longer term it was considered that a mix of pine and eucalypt wood fibre would produce the best paper. Swain had also been engaged by APM and the South Australian government in 1933 and 1934 to report on paper pulp resources in the state. Ellis was then probably working in the role of forestry consultant rather than as company employee. In any case, the publication of the 1936 Report of the Royal Commission on Afforestation, by which time he was on the APM staff, would have caused a more introspective individual some concern, for although Ellis was not a witness, his words appeared in several places in the commission’s report. Previous correspondence from Ellis to former South Australian Conservators of Forests, E. Julius and G.J. Rodger was quoted. In the latter case this was merely a glowing statement about being ‘amazed’ at the growth rates of the pine plantations.[33] Having only recently returned from New Zealand where he had appeared as a witness in front of the Company Promotion Commission, he had slammed the existing APM proposals: ‘it would be absolute suicide for the Government to alienate its pine plantations on the basis proposed by the Australian Paper Manufacturers’ and supported the orthodox forestry view that the pulping operations should be ancillary to saw log production.[34] The APM proposal he thus also condemned for silvicultural reasons: ‘if you extract 50 to 60 per cent of the stand in the manner suggested, it practically means the destruction of the balance and the desiccation of the soil’.[35] On the other hand, he also reported from contacts in the USA pulp industry of technical developments that had made it economically feasible to build much smaller capacity plants.[36] In 1934 when the South Australian Royal Commission was sitting, Ellis was still clearly able to think like a public service forester and be critical of the timber and pulp industry gaining overly cheap access to timber from state forests

He made an unsuccessful attempt to re-enter the public service in 1935 when he applied for the position of Commissioner of Forests for NSW. This had been left vacant when Jolly’s contract came to an end in 1932. The controversial E.F.H. Swain, formerly Director of Forests in Queensland, became the successful applicant.[37] Lane Poole, the Commonwealth government’s Inspector-General of Forests, saw a conspiracy. In his infamous ‘Swain dossier’ he even asserted APM had exerted political influence to have Swain appointed.[38] The New Zealand government’s reply to a confidential inquiry from the NSW Premier about Ellis was damning with faint praise noting only that: ‘He did valuable work in organising and controlling a progressive forest policy but is unduly optimistic impulsive and somewhat difficult to get on with’.[39] There is doubt over the seriousness of Ellis’ application for he had earlier urged Entrican to apply for the job (which the latter did unsuccessfully). On the other hand this could be read as a further instance of Ellis’ opportunistic behaviour. This was a critical juncture in his Imperial journey, a point at which Ellis might have been able to restore his career as a senior public sector forester.  It led Ellis to look again to the corporate sector for his future.

Around 1936 Ellis joined APM as Wood Procurement Officer. In this capacity he was involved in at least two episodes of significance to the story of Australian industrial forestry. This move may have finally provided him with financial security, Lane Poole noted that that Ellis has: ‘Swain’s job at A.P.M. and is stated to be receiving £1600!’.[40] APM by the mid 1930s had decided to build its Maryvale kraft paper mill in Victoria. Trial operations began in 1937. Ellis had worked for Laurentide Pulp and Paper Company over summer breaks while an undergraduate; doubtless he drew on this prior experience and was able to present himself as having expertise scarce in the Australian context. He played a major role in AMP’s Gippsland wood resources survey and was responsible for the organisation of the pulpwood contracts for the mill. To do this he had to complete the first basic studies in accurate measurement of pulpwood species in the region.[41] As before, he appears to have undertaken some consultancy work in addition to his duties with APM.

The fires of Friday 13th January 1939 destroyed much of Victoria’s forest lands in one of the worst conflagrations since European settlement This was to be the subject of a Royal Commission chaired by Justice Stretton.[42] In the immediate aftermath of the fires, FCV Chairman Galbraith estimated that 1.25 million [505 847 ha] acres representing 26% of reserved forest had been burnt. An even greater 3.0 million acres [1.21mill ha] of protected forests and 900 000 acres [364 210 ha] of private forest land was also burned.[43] This would have touched Ellis personally for his former assistant, John Barling, who had returned to the Victorian Forests Commission, was amongst the 72 who perished in the fire.[44] The APM mill at Maryvale was saved, however, and Ellis was sent to survey the smouldering forests. Again he had valuable prior experience in this area having undertaken a valuation of fire damaged forests when working for CPR.[45] He returned: ‘weary and dispirited to report the almost total loss of their prime source of pulpwood in the areas designated by the Forests Commission for APM’s use’.[46]

Ellis himself seemed to recover his spirits and later in 1939 was corresponding with Entrican, soon to become Director of Forests in New Zealand, about the limitations of the statistical section of the NZFS annual report and about how Whakatane Paper Mills pulping operations were proceeding while intimating that the Maryvale plant would be producing a 100 per cent eucalypt pulp by August, a claim which Entrican replied to in a sceptical tone.[47]

Ellis maintained his Sydney residence for some time, although by 1939 his forest consultant’s letterhead gives a Melbourne address – the Hotel Alexander in Spencer St, Melbourne. By 1941 he is no longer listed in the Sydney directories and his wife and family had returned to the USA a decade earlier. He was, now in poor health and in November 1941 Ellis died of complications from long term kidney disease aged 54.[48] Ellis died intestate and court documents point to the reduced financial circumstances that he found himself in middle age. He owned shares to the value of £1143 and had furniture worth £165 in storage in Sydney. The list of shares identifies retrospectively some projects in which he had invested high hopes but which had failed. These included 200 shares in Amalgamated forests (Australasia) Ltd recorded as being in liquidation and 101 shares in Tung Oil Industries Ltd marked as valueless by his trustees.[49]


Lambert and Lester pay attention to the ways in which local environments shaped the attitudes of ‘imperial careerists.’ In this respect it is revealing to appreciate how Ellis interpreted his time in New Zealand and Australia. In his 1919 New Zealand application, Ellis described himself as ‘Canadian Scots’. He later claimed to have given New Zealand ‘the ten best years of my life’.[50] In Australia he repeatedly lauded the possibilities offered by the country to Alex Entrican, whom he had hired as the State Forest Service’s Engineer in Forests Products in 1921. Their personal correspondence began when he left New Zealand and continued until Ellis’ death in 1941. Ellis was invigorated by what he saw as a more entrepreneurial business attitude, though his timing was bad and the Great Depression must have diminished his prospects. Later however, he praised the possibilities of the Australian environment and proposed making use of the introduced Tung tree plantations (Aluerites fordii) as the solution to the problem of north Queensland’s empty lands. He lauded Queensland as: ‘the finest state in the British Empire in its array of natural wealth and liveability’.[51] Australia was a land of opportunity for the bold individual and he on more than one occasion suggested that Entrican should join him in Australia in a variety of business ventures. Swain, in turn, labelled Ellis a ‘Canadian-Australian.’

Despite his enthusiasm for Australia Ellis did not achieve the financial rewards and security he sought there. His at times almost frenetic behaviour in Australia, especially his overly optimistic remarks about plantation softwood yields and enthusiasm for high risk and off beat investment ventures (which Entrican generally managed to hold at arms length) was in keeping with his temperament. Perhaps there is also an element of the gambler at play here hoping to recoup his loses and come out ahead and thus deep down to justify his move to Australia. But then again Ellis was not one to sit in one job in one place for an extended period of time. Swain’s obituary for Ellis hinted that he had changed, that he had come to terms with his circumstances, a situation that may have been reinforced by his health problems in his last years.[52]

How was Ellis remembered in New Zealand and Australia on his death? The New Zealand Journal of Forestry obituary of 1942 began by noting that he had been a long time in Australia and with his: ‘divorcement from public forestry for over 12 years’ his death had gone almost unnoticed.[53] In 1928 the predecessor journal Te Kura Ngahere had written, on the occasion of his resignation, of Ellis’: ‘intense energy, boundless enthusiasm and determination [that] were vital factors in building up in a very short space of time from very small beginnings, an efficient forestry organisation’.[54] Memory is fickle.

Swain was more direct, the Australian Timber Journal noting that, he: ‘died an honored member of that [APM] organisation, at aged 54, before he had realised the full possibilities of an unusually high potential’ and that: ‘MacIntosh Ellis had greatness – and possibly some very human weaknesses – and withal as a big man capable of big things’.[55] Showing his own loquaciousness, Swain continued that:

There are many in the widespread British Empire who will feel a private pang of regret at the passage of this man, and none will not forgive whatever defects of human-ness made up Leon MacIntosh Ellis – a courageous, sagacious, and creative Canadian-Australian who worked powerfully, suffered somewhat, acquired wisdom, and gathered friendship.[56]

Swain and Ellis’ paths would have crossed more than once. Swain was Director of Forests in Queensland when Ellis was with Queensland Forests Ltd. Likewise Swain had prepared a lengthy report for APM  on plans to establish a softwood plantation based pulp mill in South Australia about the time Ellis visited them and was appointed as Commissioner of Forests for NSW in 1935.

Ellis’ time at CPR gave him a broad experience in forestry matters and the capacity to plan boldly on a large scale. War service in France enabled him to see at first hand Normandy’s well-managed forests. France and Germany can lay claim to being the European cores of modern forestry science. New Zealand, however, offered Ellis the opportunity to exercise high level professional leadership and vision in a senior public service position.

Ellis responded by placing state forestry in New Zealand on a firm foundation administratively and legislatively, in a very short space of time. He also initiated a 300 000 acre [121 403 ha] state exotic afforestation planting boom that in some ways moved away from an orthodox forestry position[57]. Ultimately, salary issues propelled Ellis to Australia. Presumably Ellis did not resign easily, even though as he signalled in his application he saw himself as a man of action rather than contemplation. To be head of a national forest service was in many ways the pinnacle of a professional forester’s career and Ellis reached it a mere 13 years after graduating at the comparatively young age of 33.  Perhaps Ellis believed that Australia offered more scope for him.  In some senses it did in terms of a range of consulting work and a return to employment in the pulp and paper industry, but never again was he to have the same degree of responsibility and public profile.  His attempt to re-enter the public forestry sector in 1935 was unsuccessful.  There are signs that Ellis’ personal life was under pressure; around 1931 Mrs Ellis returned to her native USA with their three children though the couple were never divorced.  When Ellis wrote in 1931 that he gave New Zealand ‘ten of the best years of his life’ this was to prove to be a prophetic statement in both professional and personal terms.

As a member of what was still a comparatively new profession in the 1920s, Ellis also maintained formal links and connections via a raft of memberships that included the New Zealand Institute of Foresters for which he served as inaugural president for a time in 1928. More importantly he also belonged to the Canadian Society of Forest Engineers (founded in 1908), the Society of American Foresters (founded in 1900) and the Society of Foresters of Great Britain (founded in 1925). He was a Fellow of all of these but was not a member of the Institute of Foresters of Australia. This was not incorporated until 1935 and membership was restricted to university and Australian Forestry School graduates.[58]  On the point of joining APM, Ellis arguably showed a degree of shrewdness in keeping his distance. Ellis’ professional world was one that pivoted around North America, Britain, and New Zealand. In terms of training and early work experience, however, it was centred on North America. Fernow’s influence at Toronto and Ellis’ own first-hand experience of French forestry meant that for Ellis the ‘Empire’ was not overwhelmingly centred on Britain. Indeed the manner in which he reported on Indian forestry practices suggests that it was not until the Empire Forestry Conference of 1923 that it even became particularly ‘Imperial’. Even so, as Powell has recently pointed out the Indian forestry model in itself was not as portable as some of its proponents argued.[59] But Ellis was still part of what Dargavel refers to as an: ‘international cadre of cheery, beery foresters…with a widely shared set of beliefs, values and friendships.’[60]


Forestry has a complex ‘geography’ in imperial terms and Britain itself was not the major node although with the post war series of Empire Forestry Conferences British foresters sought to assume a greater role. Ellis provides a good example of trans imperial mobility, being a Canadian forester who moved from industrial forestry in Canada to the public sector in Scotland and New Zealand and then to private consulting and finally back to industrial forestry in Australia The forestry conditions were diverse but foresters such as Ellis believed that they had the knowledge to understand how to manage indigenous forests in the long term and to create exotic softwood plantations in a range of environments. In doing so he was buttressed by a network of professional societies that legitimised their efforts. While Ellis was a member of the Society of Foresters of Great Britain, he also belonged to older forestry societies as well as the New Zealand Institute of Foresters; what Lambert and Lester refers to as trans-imperial and extra-imperial networks were important to Ellis, but seemingly it was not an either or situation for he maintained his membership of the British and US organisations. He also embarked on an extensive exotic afforestation programme while in New Zealand, an endeavour that took him beyond the bounds of much conventional forestry practice. Factors beyond his control shaped Ellis’ career in Australia, notably the impact of the Great Depression and legislative changes constraining forestry company promotion. Victoria’s ‘Black’ Friday (13 January 1939) fires would also have markedly changed his work at APM.

This examination of Ellis’ career in forestry shows that during the period between the 1920s and 1940s the ‘complex spatiality of empire’ and ‘networked notions of empire’ became even further complicated and entangled than that portrayed by Lambert and Lester in the nineteenth century. The situation became increasingly complicated as the Empire contained a number of self governing Dominions and subsequently moved towards redefining itself as the Commonwealth and ultimately the end of the links of formal empire. [61]

Lambert and Lester also write of the importance of bringing together the professional and the emotional. Ellis’ surviving locatable correspondence tends to be overwhelmingly professional, although there is some ‘work gossip’ about forestry contemporaries and exchanges of family pleasantries with Entrican, especially when they both had young families. What is known, however, is that Ellis’ family did not remain with him in Australia but returned to the USA. Simultaneously he was facing difficulties as his prospects with Queensland Forests and Amalgamated Forests faded. In the following years he unsuccessfully attempted to return to state forestry circles and worked precariously as a consultant until again securing regular employment with APM.

Lambert and Lester’s ‘imperial careering’ provides a useful framework for studying the degree of mobility that was still possible within the empire for white male professionals even in the interwar period and allows an alternative to studying the emergence of forestry as a national development narrative. Ellis himself wrote jointly about Australia and New Zealand as the ‘Antipodes’. In his career as a forester Ellis was closely engaged with making and remaking landscapes, notably in New Zealand the pinus plantations of Kaingaroa, so in both his surviving professional writing as well as on the ground his imprint remains. Other than that being in Australia freed Ellis’ entrepreneurial streak which was doubtless much constrained in a pubic service setting in New Zealand, there is little evidence of ‘clear changes in personhood that came from dwelling in different places’[62] The limitation resides not so much within ‘imperial careering’ as a concept as in the fragmentary resource material about Ellis’ time in Australia.

Ellis was already ready to seize new opportunities and to take calculated risks. This is evident in the way in which he moved post war from the Board of Agriculture in Scotland to New Zealand and then on to Australia. The exotic planting boom in New Zealand was innovative and contained some risks to do with monoculture vulnerability, narrow age class distributions of the forests and some unknowns about milling and processing. The difficulties were overcome by later foresters but in Australia, Ellis never achieved similar success. The Great Depression ruined his business aspirations and some riskier ventures such as Tung Oil plantations did not produce the anticipated profits. He was also peripherally caught up in the contest between the professionally trained foresters and non-qualified forestry officials for control of forest administration at the state level. In New Zealand Ellis demonstrated considerable leadership ability in sometimes difficult circumstances. In Australia he accepted roles as a team player. Ellis remained optimistic about his prospects in Australia, at odds with the evidence about his family circumstances and professional difficulties. This was not however out of character for he was more interested in action than reflection about what might have been.


I wish to thank Dr John Dargavel (ANU) for helpful comments and encouragement in preparing this preliminary assessment of Ellis’ career in Australia and New Zealand and Professor Mark Kuhlberg (History Department, Laurentian University) who has completed a major study of the Forestry School at the University of Toronto for sharing material about Ellis. The usual disclaimer applies.


This article has been peer reviewed.


[1] Even the spelling is problematic. His birth certificate suggests McIntosh but he frequently used MacIntosh, particularly after he moved to Australia.

[2] A. Lambert and A. Lester, ‘Imperial Spaces, imperial subjects’, in A. Lambert and A. Lester, eds., Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial careering in the long nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, 1-26.

[3]  Lambert and Lester, 2006, 11.

[4] Lambert and Lester, 2006, 21.

[5] Lambert and Lester 2006, 26.

[6] P. McManus, ‘Histories of Forestry: Ideas, Networks and Silences’, Environment and History 5, 1999, 185-208.

[7] M. Kuhlberg, ‘Bernhard Fernow guided the Faculty of Forestry from its founding a century ago through the tragic losses of the First World War’. Url: http://www.magazine.utoronto.ca/07spring/forestry.asp; downloaded 14 October 2008.

[8] F, Application; Director of Forests, F W1921 1, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[9]  P. McKelvey, ‘L. MacIntosh Ellis in France’, New Zealand Forestry, 35, 1989, 16.

[10] M. Roche,  ‘Ellis, McIntosh 1887 – 1941’.  Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz

[11] L. M. Ellis, Forest and Forestry in New Zealand. Prepared for the Imperial Forestry Conference, Ottawa, Wellington, 1923.

[12] Ellis, ‘The Empire Forestry Conference’, New Zealand Life and Forest Magazine, 3, 1923, 6.

[13] L.M. Ellis, ‘The Empire Forestry Conference’, New Zealand Life and Forest Magazine, 3, 1923, 6.

[14] M. Roche,  ‘Ellis, McIntosh 1887–1941’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz

[15] Ellis, ‘New Zealand – The Timber farm of Australasia’, New Zealand Life, 4, 1925, 7.

[16]  By 2006 the net stocked area of plantation forest all ownership classes  amounted to 1.8mill ha. See New Zealand Forest Industry Facts and Figures 2007/2008.Url: http://www.maf.govt.nz/statistics/forestry/other-forestry-releases/facts-figures/facts-figures-07-08.pdf

[17] The Dominion, 10 March 1928.

[18] Ward to Entrican, 6 June 1928, F W607 5f, Miscellaneous 1927-1930, Archives New Zealand, Wellington. This involved not only Ellis. New Zealand Perpetual Forests, for instance in 1926 had successfully recruited H.A. Goudie formerly Conservator of Forests for Rotorua and a local expert on Australian eucalyptus species in New Zealand (see B. Healy, A Hundred Million Pine Trees, Auckland, 1982).

[19]  E.S. Moulton, ‘Capitalise Opportunity’,  Smith’s Weekly, 4 April, 1928. The time elapsing before the return on the investment was paid was not clear in advertising material.

[20] Anon, ‘A Man of Great Achievement’, Smith’s Weekly, 5 May, 1928.

[21] Queensland Forests Ltd, Smith’s Weekly, 5 August, 1928.

[22] Roche, ‘Tung Oil in Australasia; A network perspective’ Geographical Research, 47 (forthcoming 2009).

[23] E.S. & R.C. Moulton Ltd, AANI W3219 93 29/5/0A, Australian Forestation Companies General File 1929-1947, Archives, New Zealand, Wellington.

[24] F1/48/2/21, Tung Oil part 2 1929-1930, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[25] Ellis to Entrican, 8 December 1931 F W607, Correspondence A.R. Entrican with L. McIntosh Ellis, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[26] The Dominion, 4 July 1931.

[27] Entrican to Swain, 17 August 1935 F W607 2b, PSA Appeals, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[28] Ellis to Entrican, 20 October 1933, F W607 2b, PSA Appeals, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[29] J. Dargavel, The Zealous Conservator, a Life of Charles Lane Poole, Crawley WA, 2008, 159.

[30] T 67 6 Original Evidence Commission of Inquiry into Company Promotions Methods, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[31] Ellis to Howe, 1935 (Pers. Comm. Dr Mark Kuhlberg, 2008).

[32] E.K. Sinclair, The Spreading Tree. A History of APM and AMCOR 1844-1989, Allen and Unwin, North Sydney, 1990.

[33] Report of the Royal Commission on Afforestation, South Australian Parliamentary papers No 56. 1936, 18.

[34] Report of the Royal Commission, 37.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Report of the Royal Commission, 41.

[37] This was a highly-charged  appointment in that Lane Poole of the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau had attempted to urge the appointment of a professionally qualified forester to the position; Australian born Swain had no formal qualifications. See J. Dargavel, The Zealous Conservator, a Life of Charles Lane Poole, Crawley WA 2008).

[38] Lane Poole to Howie, 10 February 1936, AA1975/142, Swain Dossier, National Archives of Australia, Canberra. Digital copy bar code 2165649 (downloaded 14 November 2008).

[39] Thomson to Ransom, 2 May 1935, F W607 4, Leon McIntosh Ellis, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[40] Lane Poole to Howie, 10 February 1936, AA1975/142 Swain Dossier, National Archives of Australia, Canberra. Digital copy bar code 2165649 (downloaded 14 November 2008). By 1936 the New Zealand Director of Forests salary is not shown in the public service lists of the time but with cuts to state salaries in the early 1930s was unlikely to have been close to this figure.

[41] E. K. Sinclair, The Spreading Tree. A History of APM and AMCOR 1844-1989, North Sydney, 1990, 95.

[42] The fires and their aftermath are discussed in T. Griffiths, Forests of Ash, an Environmental history, Cambridge, 2001.

[43] A. V. Galbraith, A.V. ‘The Disastrous Forest Fires of January 1939, in Victoria’, Empire Forestry Journal, 18, 1939, 14.

[44] Sinclair, The Spreading Tree, 98.

[45] F, Application; Director of Forests, FW 1921, 1, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[46] Sinclair, The Spreading Tree, 99.

[47] Ellis to Entrican, 16 May 1939 Entrican Papers, Acc 73-103 No 7 Personal File 7, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

[48] This segment of Ellis’ career as outlined here is still somewhat tentative and requires further investigation.

[49] Leon MacIntosh Ellis 4/278628 box S1 1542 Probates, State Records, NSW, Sydney.

[50] The Dominion, 4 July, 1931.

[51] Ellis to Entrican, 28 February 1931, F W607 2f, Correspondence A.R. Entrican with L. McIntosh Ellis, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[52] E.F.H. Swain, ‘Vale Leon MacIntosh Ellis – Forester’, Australian Timber Journal, 7, 1941, 535.

[53] Anon, ‘Leon McIntosh Ellis BSci F’, New Zealand Journal of Forestry, 1942, 5, 6. Admittedly obituaries penned close to the time of the events at hand may conceal as much as they reveal.

[54] Anon, ‘Notes’, Te Kura Ngahere, 2, 1928, 36.

[55] Swain, ‘Vale Leon MacIntosh Ellis’, 535.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Roche, ‘Ellis, McIntosh 1887 – 1941’.

[58] J. Dargavel The Zealous Conservator, a Life of Charles Lane Poole, Crawley, WA, 2008, 167.

[59] J.M. Powell, ‘“Dominion over palm and pine”; the British Empire Forestry conferences, 1920-1947’, Journal of Historical Geography, 33, 2007, 852-877.

[60] J. Dargavel, Fashioning Australia’s Forests, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1995, 67.

[61] Powell, ‘“Dominion over palm and pine”’, 852-877.

[62] Lambert and Lester, 26.