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Mackay, Angus (1824–1886)

by S. M. Ingham

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

Angus Mackay (1824-1886), by Samuel Calvert, 1870 (after a photograph by Frederick Frith)

Angus Mackay (1824-1886), by Samuel Calvert, 1870 (after a photograph by Frederick Frith)

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN23/04/70/96

Angus Mackay (1824-1886), newspaper proprietor and politician, was born on 26 January 1824 in Aberdeen, Scotland, son of Murdoch Mackay, soldier, and his wife Elizabeth, née McLeod. His father took the family to Sydney in 1827 and became a private in the Veteran Corps at Parramatta. Intending to join the Presbyterian ministry, Angus attended J. D. Lang's Australian College and later taught there. For some time he was headmaster of a Sydney Presbyterian school but abandoned his theological predilections in favour of journalism and involvement in the anti-transportation movement. In 1847 he was editor of the Atlas founded by Robert Lowe. In 1850 he managed a business at Geelong for Henry Parkes but returned to Sydney to join the staff of the People's Advocate.

In May 1851 Mackay visited the Ophir and other goldfields as a special correspondent to the Empire and in 1852 was its parliamentary reporter. From March to October 1853 he was a digger and special correspondent to the Empire on the Ovens fields where he spoke at a meeting on miners' grievances. In October Mackay appeared as a miners' delegate before the select committee on the goldfields and spoke strongly against the licence fee. He then moved to Bendigo where, for a year as special correspondent to the Argus, he reported the many rushes in the district. Describing himself as widowed, on 30 November 1861 at Fitzroy he married Margaret O'Shannassy; they had three sons and three daughters.

In 1855 Mackay and two others bought the Bendigo Advertiser and in 1863 they established the McIvor Times; after its sale the firm bought the Riverine Herald. As a newspaper editor and proprietor at Bendigo, Mackay took a keen interest in local affairs. In 1855 he was one of three who formed the Working Miners' Protection Society which supported the 'co-operative association of working miners' against 'monopolists'. He was active in the miners' eight-hour movement and in the campaign to obtain an adequate water supply for Bendigo; in 1867 he was president of the Mechanics' Institute.

In 1868 Mackay was elected for Sandhurst Boroughs to the Legislative Assembly and appointed a member of the Board of Education. From April 1870 to June 1871 he was minister for mines in the McCulloch ministry. He held the same office in the Francis and Kerferd ministries from June 1872 to August 1875; he was also minister for public instruction from July 1874 to August 1875. Defeated in the 1877 election he was returned after a successful petition unseated his opponent. In July 1879 he was prominent in a syndicate which started the Sydney Daily Telegraph. Editorial duties in Sydney prevented him from contesting the elections in 1880 and 1883, but he again represented Sandhurst after winning a by-election in May. Three years later he was defeated at the polls.

Partly because of his free trade opinions Mackay was a 'moderate' Liberal in Victorian politics. In 1853 he assured the select committee on the goldfields that 'you need not fear going too far in extending the franchise as much as possible'. In 1868 he opposed the Darling grant but supported the assembly in its constitutional conflict with the council. Mackay advocated secular and compulsory education which would be free only to the poor. As minister for mines he introduced in 1872 a bill for mining on private property but it was rejected by the council; three of his later bills met the same fate. While opposed to 'Berryite' policies, he had reservations about the increasing conservatism of the McCulloch ministry in 1875-77. In his last years he was a critic of the Service-Berry coalition.

Mackay won well-deserved repute as an efficient administrator. He was mainly responsible for the 1873 Regulation of Mines Act which legalized the eight-hour system and enforced important safety standards in the mines. In the Board of Education he advocated the secular solution which parliament later adopted. Indeed the education bill introduced by the McCulloch ministry in 1870 and drafted by Mackay and the solicitor-general, H. J. Wrixon, was remarkably similar to the main provisions of the Education Act of 1872. He was regarded as an efficient second minister for public instruction in a difficult year of transition.

Mackay was a good example of those attracted to the goldfields who did modestly well in later decades. Besides newspaper interests he invested in mining ventures and left an estate valued at £6722. Although an unimpressive speaker, his contributions to debates were usually well prepared and constructive. His reputation for dourness was belied in part by his great interest in theatricals and cricket. Mackay's wife died in 1874, survived by three sons and two daughters. In Melbourne on 15 July 1875 he married Annie Leslie Anderson. He died at his home in Sandhurst on 5 July 1886.

Select Bibliography

  • R. L. Knight, Illiberal Liberal: Robert Lowe in New South Wales, 1842-1850 (Melb, 1966)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 July 1886
  • D. F. C. Johanson, The Development of Bendigo from a Goldfield into a Community (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1959)
  • D. Grundy, The Politics of Church-State Relations in Victoria, 1868-1872 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1972).

Citation details

S. M. Ingham, 'Mackay, Angus (1824–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackay-angus-4105/text6561, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 27 September 2017.

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

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