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Black, Niel (1804–1880)

by Russel Ward

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Niel Black (1804-1880), pioneer pastoralist and politician, was born on 26 August 1804 at Kilbridemore in the Cowal district, Argyllshire, Scotland, the second son of Archibald Black, farmer, and his wife Janet, née Macchananaich (Buchanan). His father, a tenant of the Duke of Argyll, was killed by a fall from his horse in 1808. Niel's native language was Gaelic but he early became fluent in English. In youth and early manhood he gained a thorough knowledge of practical farming in Argyll. In his early thirties he went into partnership with William Steuart of Glenormiston, Peeblesshire, Alexander Struthers Finlay of Castle Toward, Argyllshire, and Thomas Steuart Gladstone, first cousin of the future prime minister and member of the Liverpool firm of Gladstone, Serjeantson & Co. To the partnership of Niel Black & Co. its nominal head initially contributed little capital but much ability and practical experience. The firm's object was investment in Australian pastoral ventures and in 1839 Black sailed in the Ariadne.

In July he reached Adelaide and in turn investigated pastoral prospects there, in Melbourne and in Sydney. Preferring Port Phillip, in part because he thought it 'a Scotch settlement', he bought in 1840, in the Western District near Lake Terang, the stock and rights to a 43,520-acre (17,612 ha) run which he renamed Glenormiston. In 1843 Black returned briefly to Scotland to report progress and renew the partnership. In 1844 he bought the near-by run known as The Sisters, and many other extensive Western District properties were acquired by the partnership and held for various periods in the following decades. In the 1850s he visited Scotland again, remaining for five years until he had found a bride, Grace Greenshields Leadbetter, barely in her twenties, accomplished and attractive. They were married in 1857.

Under the free selection legislation of the 1860s Black managed to acquire a freehold title to enough land to secure effective possession of the firm's major stations. In 1867 during the first royal visit to Australia Prince Alfred went to Glenormiston where, Black wrote to Gladstone, he had 'the verandah covered in [to make] the place complete for a large corrobery'. In 1868 and 1869 the partnership was dissolved, distribution of the land being by lot. Gladstone drew The Sisters, Finlay the northern portion of the Glenormiston run and Black the southern which he named Mount Noorat. He was bitterly disappointed at having lost to the Finlays his old homestead and what he regarded as the best part of the station. Melbourne Club gossip and quite unsubstantiated rumours of double dealing added to the bad feeling between the erstwhile partners and their families.

Niel Black was one of the most successful stock breeders of his time, establishing pedigreed Cotswold and merino flocks and founding a Shorthorn stud at Mount Noorat said by some contemporaries to be 'the finest in the southern hemisphere'. Elected on 19 February 1859 a member for the Western Province to the Victorian Legislative Council, he held the seat continuously until his death. He attended sessions conscientiously but spoke rarely, being a member of what a contemporary called 'the extreme section of the “No Surrender” party in that body'. Shrewd, righteous, proud, hard working and thrifty, he was typical of many successful Scottish immigrants of the time. Generous to those he thought deserving, he never ceased to denounce sloth and shiftlessness in others. He believed that what he saw as the headlong progress of democracy would finally lead to anarchy and communism. He contributed generously but unostentatiously to the relief of distress and to the Presbyterian Church in his district. His wife bore him three sons, Archibald John, Steuart Gladstone and Niel Walter. He died in his home at Mount Noorat on 15 May 1880, leaving an estate of £179,208.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vols 1-2 (Melb, 1888)
  • H. M. Hyndman, The Record of an Adventurous Life (Lond, 1911)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • H. H. Peck, Memoirs of a Stockman (Melb, 1942)
  • M. L. Kiddle, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • Warrnambool Standard, 18, 20 May 1880
  • Black papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • Mackinnon papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Russel Ward, 'Black, Niel (1804–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/black-niel-3003/text4391, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 2 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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