Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Currie, Archibald (1830–1914)

by J. Ann Hone

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

Archibald Currie (1830-1914), master mariner and businessman, was born on 11 September 1830 at Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of John Currie, shoemaker, and his wife Elizabeth, née Nicol. At 14 he went to sea, apprenticed to McCunn & Co. of Greenock, America and China traders. In 1853 Currie arrived in Melbourne as third officer of the Sir William Molesworth. After three months at the Bendigo and Heathcote goldfields he shipped as mate in the Leven Lass; in September he became master of the George. In 1854, with W. A. Boyd and Thomas Elder Boyd, junior, he bought the Elizabeth and from January 1855, with T. E. Boyd only, traded in coastal, New Zealand and Chinese waters. The partners established a shipping company in Melbourne and in the 1860s bought at least nine vessels. In 1872 Boyd retired and as Archibald Currie & Co. Currie inaugurated regular trade with India, shipping horses to Calcutta and returning with rice, oil, jute and tea. In 1883 Currie visited Britain, returning in 1885 in the Bucephalus with which he opened a direct steam service to India. Other steamships were soon added to the line.

Currie invested in salvage and personally supervised the removal of cargo from several wrecks. Through his efforts a lighthouse was erected at Currie Point, King Island. In 1882 with William Brookes he bought the Australian Paper Mills, leased the land on the south bank of the Yarra and spent £37,000 on buildings. The mills later expanded to Geelong and Broadford.

Currie was a founder of the Australian Lloyds and of the Australian Mercantile Union Insurance Co. of which he was chairman for many years. He was chairman of commissioners of the State Savings Bank in 1892-93 and in 1901-14, chairman of the London and Lancashire Life Insurance Co. and a director of the Commercial Bank of Australia and the Australasian Mortgage and Agency Co. He was president of the Employers' Union, a member of the Lorimer Board (to report on the Defence Department) and the royal commission on the Metropolitan Board of Works. Fond of looking at things from 'a sailor man's point of view', Currie gave invaluable service to the Pilot Board and as chairman to its successor, the Marine Board. In 1898 Currie's evidence before a Legislative Council select committee helped to secure the abandonment of the Victorian immigration restriction bill. He believed the employment of Asian labour was vital for northern Australian development and in 1901 led a deputation, representing steamship companies with a total capital of £30 million, to the prime minister.

Sturdy, bearded and fair, Currie was once described as a 'dour Scotch sea captain … who looked as though he had never laughed in his life'. Certainly his greatest pleasure, sea-going, was often denied him in his last thirty years. In 1913 he sold his ships to the British India Steam Navigation Co. and retired in indifferent health. He died at his home, Pladda, St Kilda, on 3 September 1914. His wife Jessie, whom he had married on 3 April 1866 in Melbourne and by whom he had seven children, was the daughter of Ballantine Rollo of Brunswick.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. Smith (ed), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Select Committee on River and Harbor Trust: Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1858-59 (D23)
  • Table Talk, 24 Apr 1896
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 Oct 1903
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Sept 1914.

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Currie, Archibald (1830–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/currie-archibald-3303/text5029, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 3 December 2016.

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

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