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Macknight, Charles Hamilton (1819–1873)

by J. Ann Hone

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

Charles Hamilton Macknight (1819-1873), pastoralist, was born in Edinburgh, son of Rev. Dr Thomas Macknight and his wife Christian Crawfurd, née Macknight, a cousin. Educated at the High School and the University of Edinburgh, he attended the Scottish Naval and Military Academy for a year before sailing to Port Phillip where he arrived on 1 March 1841. James Hamilton Irvine and William Campbell went with him, the three men having agreed to combine resources. In May the partners took up the 25,000-acre (10,000 ha) Strathlodden run and Bough Yards, 22,400 acres (9060 ha) near Castlemaine, but left the district in 1842 and acquired 47,228 acres (19,112 ha) between Macarthur and Port Fairy in the Western District. They overlanded 600 head of cattle and horses from their old stations to the new run which they called Dunmore. They had some trouble at first with Aboriginals who maimed stock and stole station stores. Once or twice Macknight was a member of punitive expeditions, but he won repute for just dealing and gained the confidence of the Aboriginals.

Macknight was determined to develop the run, even pondering the possibilities of emu oil. Dunmore was soon regarded as the most improved homestead in the district. It had three substantial slab huts with great stone chimneys and a pisé dairy with a large milking shed. Macknight also constructed dams.

Campbell sold his share in the property in 1847, disheartened by years of toil and small reward. Macknight and Irvine stayed and were amply repaid after 1851 when the gold rushes created a heavy demand for meat. Macknight blamed the Victorian government for insecurity of tenure which he claimed had prevented the sinking of capital in the subdivision of runs with the result that scab went largely unchecked and production potential was far from being realized. The royal commission, appointed by Sir Charles Hotham to inquire into squatting tenure, published its report in 1855. Outraged, Macknight published A Review of The Report of The Squatting Commission, in which he upheld the services of the squatters to the country. When the opportunity came to buy land he did so with fervour, but like many others he over-extended himself. A friend and admirer, Rolf Boldrewood, records that Macknight tackled the land question with his usual unflinching moral courage.

In 1863 Dunmore was divided. Macknight and Irvine retained one portion while Dunmore West was acquired by the Trust and Agency Co. Irvine continued as Macknight's partner till the early 1870s. At Dunmore Macknight specialized in the breeding of Shorthorn cattle. His purchases in 1843 at the sale of the Boldens' stud served as a foundation for one of the finest herds in the district. In 1875 the Dunmore stud was dispersed at the peak of the cattle boom and thirty-nine animals realized an average of £672 a head. Macknight also bred race-horses but his greatest interest became the breeding of pure merinos. He bought half the Camden flock from Griffith & Greene, convinced that Camden blood was more important than any other in the colonies and must be preserved at all costs. This he did for years in spite of the black soil and heavy country of Dunmore and the continual outbreaks of fluke and footrot in the flock. Finally he decided sheep could not thrive at Dunmore and sold them all, but not before he had established himself as one of the greatest authorities on sheepbreeding. He believed in inbreeding and wrote many long argumentative letters to the Melbourne Economist, the Australasian and other papers. With Dr Henry Madden he wrote On the True Principles of Breeding which was published in Melbourne in 1865. Macknight maintained that long experience and observation were needed to make a great breeder but he also believed that such men were born with the ability.

Macknight served for years as a member of the Belfast (Port Fairy) Shire Council and magistrate for the Belfast General Sessions District. He was a foundation member and president of the Minhamite Shire Council. With a strong interest in education he was president of the Belfast Young Men's Improvement Society and lectured on literary and scientific subjects to various societies in the Western District. Boldrewood records that his manner of speaking was logically clear and trenchant. Macknight supported the movement for total abstinence and was on the committee of management of the Belfast Hospital and Benevolent Asylum.

Macknight was struck by a falling tree during a bush fire and died three days later on 9 March 1873, leaving little for his family. He was survived by his wife Everina Isabella, née Heatley, whom he had married in 1856, and by four sons and two daughters. The sons were educated at Melbourne Grammar; three became doctors and the other an architect.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Boldrewood, Old Melbourne Memories, 2nd ed (Melb, 1896)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Australian Families, vol 1 (Melb, 1941)
  • Temperance News, Apr 1873
  • Australasian, 15 Mar, 10 May 1873
  • Kiddle papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Macknight, Charles Hamilton (1819–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macknight-charles-hamilton-4117/text6585, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 October 2014.

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

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