Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Macdonald, Benjamin Wickham (1853–1920)

by N. L. McKellar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Benjamin Wickham Macdonald (1853-1920), company manager, was born on 15 March 1853 at Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland, son of Alexander Macdonald, flesher, and his wife Jessie, née Urquhart. He was schooled at Elgin Academy, then worked for a local law firm, Fife, Duff, Robertson & Skinner, from 1866. At 19 he entered the service of A. & J. Inglis, shipbuilders, Glasgow, and seven years later joined the staff of Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co., managing agents for the British India Steam Navigation Co., first at Karachi, then at Calcutta.

For reasons of health, in 1884 Macdonald moved to Brisbane and the subsidiary Queensland Steam Shipping Co., next year to the newly incorporated British India & Queensland Agency Co., and in 1887 to the Australasian United Steam Navigation Co., recently formed by London interests associated with B.I.S.N. He became travelling inspector, then agent, at Rockhampton (1887-90), Cooktown (1890-96) and Adelaide (1896-1900). In 1900 James Lyle Mackay (later Lord Inchcape) visited Australia to reorganize A.U.S.N.'s affairs and Macdonald was transferred to Brisbane as general manager of both A.U.S.N. and B.I.Q.A.

In 1902 Macdonald was a leading negotiator in the formation of the 'Collins pool', the first all-embracing agreement between the major coastal shipping companies. By both co-operation and competition he and his arch-rival Ernest Northcote of the Adelaide Steamship Co. built up the impressive Australian coastal fleet. In 1915 the chairman of B.I.Q.A., Lord Inchcape, wound down the company and established an agency for A.U.S.N., named after its first two senior managing partners, Macdonald, Hamilton & Co. Macdonald's influence now extended far beyond the Queensland coast.

His firm was an agent for a number of shipping, insurance and trading companies and he was chairman of directors of E. Rich & Co. Ltd, the Lymington Collieries Ltd (Sydney), and Blackheath Collieries Ltd (Brisbane). In 1907-17 Macdonald was Russian consul for Queensland.

While not unsympathetic to the legitimate aspirations of workers, Macdonald refused to co-operate with the premier's request to re-employ union labour during the 1917 maritime strike. His tact nevertheless kept A.U.S.N.'s labour relations generally above average.

A 'big and genuine' man, a keen observer and cheery companion with a fine tenor voice, Macdonald was an active member of the Brisbane Liedertafel in his middle years. With dwindling time for golf, cricket, bowling and yachting, he retained membership of the Queensland, Brisbane, Royal Queensland Yacht, Stock Exchange and Commercial Travellers' Association clubs.

Macdonald had married Letitia Amelia Rendall in Brisbane on 19 April 1888 with Presbyterian forms. Predeceased by her, he died on 22 October 1920 and was buried in Toowong cemetery with Church of England rites. He was survived by his four daughters and son Rodney Wickham, who in turn became managing partner of Macdonald, Hamilton and who fathered Benjamin Wickham, currently its managing director. Macdonald's estate was sworn for probate at £39,218.

Select Bibliography

  • Newspaper Cartoonists' Association of Queensland, Queenslanders as We See 'Em (Brisb, 1915)
  • N. L. McKellar, From Derby Found to Burketown (Brisb, 1977)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1917, p 1036
  • Commercial Publishing Co. of Syd Ltd, Annual Review of Queensland, 1 (1902), no 1
  • Sea, Land and Air, 3, 1919-20, p 589
  • Historical Papers(Royal Historical Society of Queensland), 6, 1974-75, p 13
  • Queenslander, 30 Oct 1920.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

N. L. McKellar, 'Macdonald, Benjamin Wickham (1853–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 5 April 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]


15 March 1853
Elgin, Moray, Scotland


22 October 1920
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence