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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Greenfield, Alexander Mackay (1839–1922)

by Austin McCallum

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Alexander Mackay Greenfield (1839-1922), merchant, citizen-soldier and sportsman, was born on 5 February 1839 at Auchencrow, Berwickshire, Scotland, son of John Greenfield, merchant, and his wife Janet Cora, née Mackay. When Alexander was 7 his father died. It is believed that he then came under the care of a guardian, completing his schooling at 15 when he was articled to a Berwick solicitor. He began to study law at Edinburgh before deciding to seek his fortune on the Victorian goldfields. After disembarking on 14 September 1857 he walked first to the Ararat field and then to Pleasant Creek (Stawell). He had no luck and, after working on a sheep-station, secured a clerk's position in Melbourne with the London Chartered Bank of Australia.

Greenfield impressed his employers: in 1860 he was sent to the important Ballarat branch as its accountant and immediately became involved in sporting activities. Tall, strong and athletic, Alex Greenfield was first captain of the Ballarat Football Club. His togs and his portrait are enshrined in its clubrooms. He also succeeded as a high and long jumper and hurdler, winning many local and colonial events.

In 1866 he established his own business, A. M. Greenfield & Co. In commodious premises in Doveton Street, the company dealt with farm produce, land and property sales, auctioneering and sales of machinery and fertilisers in the heyday of the district's farming development. His many business interests included chairmanship of Permewan Wright & Co. Ltd and Brind's Pty Ltd, distillers. He also opened offices in South Africa and New Zealand. Although he suffered severe financial losses in the 1890s, he paid off his creditors to the sum of £40,000 within a promised ten years.

In 1861 Greenfield had joined the Ballarat Volunteer Rifle Rangers. In 1866 he was commissioned and retired in 1877 as captain. When the 3rd, or Ballarat Battalion, Victorian Rifles, was set up in 1884 he returned to the force and was promoted major and adjutant; five years later he became lieutenant-colonel commanding the battalion. R. E. Williams remembered him as 'A gentleman … and a bitter foe to humbug and pretence'. A fine marksman, in 1876 he commanded a team of Victorian riflemen which competed in England and the United States of America with notable success. He retired from the reserve of officers in 1902. In 1914, 'The Colonel' was prominent in forming a citizen defence corps, becoming president.

Greenfield was president of the Ballarat Club in 1891-95 and of the Ballarat Agricultural and Pastoral Society, and after terms as secretary was president for many years of the Ballarat Turf Club. He helped to found the Ballarat Agricultural High School and the Fish Acclimatization Society, and was an active member of the orphanage committee. He was a justice of the peace for thirty years and, as a regular member of the bench, was known for kindness, tolerance and good humour.

On 27 July 1871 with Presbyterian forms, Greenfield had married Jessie, daughter of James Williamson, a bank-manager and a defendant in the Mount Egerton mine case. Greenfield died on 29 October 1922 and was buried in Ballarat new cemetery, leaving an estate valued for probate at £15,227. He was survived by five of his six daughters and by his son Angus (1875-1951) who took over control of the firm. Angus surpassed his father's achievements as an athlete; he was also captain of the Ballarat Football Club and played for Geelong while still at Geelong Church of England Grammar School. After leaving school, during the football season he cycled from Ballarat to Melbourne or Geelong and back every Saturday. He won national cycling championships and State championships in pole-vaulting and weight-putting, was an outstanding rower, and was probably Ballarat's best athlete.

A portrait in oils by J. Oldham of 'The Colonel' in uniform is at the Ballarat Club.

Select Bibliography

  • M. M. McCallum, Ballarat and District Citizens and Sports at Home and Abroad (Ballarat, 1916)
  • W. Bate, Lucky City (Melb, 1978)
  • Ballarat Star, 15 Jan 1921
  • private information.

Citation details

Austin McCallum, 'Greenfield, Alexander Mackay (1839–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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