Mr Ralph Abercrombie OBE

Ralph Abercrombie (1881–1957) was born in Mount Duneed, Victoria, on 19 July 1881 and joined the Department of the Treasurer in July 1901. He was appointed a receiver of public moneys and paying officer in the Navy Office of the Commonwealth Department of Defence on 1 August 1911. Originally second-in-charge to Honorary Fleet Paymaster Albert Martin, Abercrombie became acting Director of Navy Accounts when Martin departed for London in late 1914.

Naval accounting functions expanded markedly during the First World War. The Naval Board became responsible for a fleet of 74 merchant ships, each of which was requisitioned and fitted out to transport troops, horses, stores and when expedient commercial cargoes; the board also operated 12 seized enemy vessels in a mercantile role. Claims arising between the Australian Government and shipping companies, merchants, ship-fitters and the Imperial authorities were brought to account in the Director of Navy Accounts’ office. Though critical of some procedures, a September 1918 report of the Royal Commission into Navy and Defence Administration was favourable overall and recommended that Abercrombie be confirmed in his position: the appointment was effected on 1 April 1919.

In 1923, Abercrombie travelled to England to settle accounts concerning the repatriation of Australian troops. While attached to the Admiralty, he gained experience in Imperial accountancy organisation. Appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1935, he joined the Naval Board the following year as Finance and Civil Member. On 1 September 1938, he succeeded HC Brown as Auditor-General for the Commonwealth. During the Second World War, Abercrombie maintained government accounting and administrative standards in the face of daunting shortages of experienced staff. It was not a time for innovation but, in his final report (1946), he recommended an amendment (passed in 1948) to the Audit Act because the Naval Charter Rates Board had refused him access to its papers. The destruction of non-current records during his term was a loss to Australian administrative history.

Ralph Abercrombie retired on 18 July 1946. He was an associate member of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants and a member of the Naval and Military Club, Melbourne.

He died on 3 May 1957 at Hawthorn and was buried in Melbourne General Cemetery.

Read more at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.