Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

MacGregor, Duncan (1835–1916)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Duncan MacGregor (1835-1916), pastoralist, was born near Learan, Perthshire, Scotland, son of John MacGregor, tenant farmer, and his wife Janet, née Sinclair. He sailed from Liverpool on 7 June 1857 in the Marco Polo and soon after arrival in Victoria went to New South Wales, where he managed Mount Murchison and Donald MacRae's Culpauline station on the Darling River. He also explored much of south-west Queensland. In 1868 he returned to Victoria and on 25 February married Margaret, daughter of Donald and Christina MacRae.

The MacGregors lived at Glengyle, Moors Road, Coburg, and held Clunie, a property near Chintin in the Romsey district. There in 1869 MacGregor formed the basis of his famous studs of pure Booth Shorthorns and Leicester sheep. The latter he founded with twenty-five ewes from W. Field's stud in Tasmania and a ram bred by Mathew Wait of progeny from Steel's Deep Creek stud. He added more ewes from Field in 1887 and six rams from Branxholme Park, Southland, New Zealand. He believed that 'the essential for success in breeding animals is the gifted faculty that recognises the kind of animals that ought to be selected … the real fundamental principle of breeding is hereditary'. His cattle and sheep studs testified to his possession of this 'gifted faculty' as did his development of the Clydesdale horse. Although a strong pleader for reliable studbooks, he resented government attempts to interfere with the importing of horses, arguing that 'protective measures are at all times to be avoided when they interfere with the freedom of the individual'.

By 1874 MacGregor was able to move into south-west Queensland. With his widowed mother-in-law he increased the MacRae holdings in the Gregory South and Warrego Districts, and with other partners and through agents took up many of the runs comprising Durham Downs on Cooper's Creek. Most of these leases were applied for and granted between 1874 and 1879, and others not till 1884. By then he was in partnership with James MacBain, Alex McEdward and John Bell as MacGregor & Co. By 1893 Durham Downs carried 96,000 sheep, 26,000 cattle and 4000 horses, all mortgaged in June 1894. MacGregor acquired leases of the twenty-one runs of Glengyle in Gregory North in the late 1870s and early 1880s and also the leases of Melba Downs, Miranda, Yanko and Mimosa. Glengyle carried 14,113 cattle and 180 horses, the other stations 42,500 sheep, 364 horses and 11,257 cattle. All were mortgaged in 1895.

MacGregor's Victorian concerns fared better. In 1875 he had bought 3928 acres (1590 ha) for between 25s. and 43s. an acre of Koo-wee-rup swamp. Two years later his drainage scheme was operating; 3871 acres (1567 ha) were drained by 1880 at a cost of £1754 and 200 acres (81 ha) cleared of tea-tree, and the Dalmore studs of Shorthorns and Leicesters were in residence there. Enterprising though MacGregor's drainage activities were, they flooded his neighbours' properties, and caused two protracted legal cases, stimulating his love of litigation and incurring for him the temporary hostility of the Berwick and Cranbourne Shire Councils. Reports of the richness of this area, the 'Garden of Victoria' aroused interest and in 1889 the government began to drain Koo-wee-rup. By then he had acquired a second Pakenham property, Gowanlea, near Tooradin. In 1891 he turned over the management of this estate and Dalmore to his sons Donald and John, and at Chintin founded the Clunie Border Leicester stud with Scottish ewes and rams bought at Harper's Avondale sale.

MacGregor was a Presbyterian. Aged 81 he died at Clunie on 28 January 1916, survived by his wife and six children. Dour and sturdily built, he was remembered as an intrepid explorer, bushman, conqueror of swamp land and judge of stud stock.

Select Bibliography

  • W. T. Wright, The Live Stock Annual of Australia (Melb, 1903)
  • H. H. Peck, Memoirs of a Stockman (Melb, 1942)
  • Berwick (Vic) Shire Council, From Bullock Track to Bitumen (Berwick, 1962)
  • N. Gunson, The Good Country: Cranbourne Shire (Melb, 1968)
  • Australian Law Times, 9 Aug 1902, p15
  • Daily Telegraph (Melbourne), 27, 29 Apr 1880
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Jan 1916
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Jan 1916
  • Pakenham Gazette, 18 Sept 1959
  • L. M. Key. Historical Geography of the Kooweerup District (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1967)
  • pastoral holdings records (Queensland State Archives)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'MacGregor, Duncan (1835–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macgregor-duncan-4096/text6509, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014