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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Maclanachan, James (1799–1884)

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

James Maclanachan (1799?-1884), settler and politician, was born near Muirkirk, County Ayr, Scotland. He was 'respectably educated' and early acquired a complete knowledge of livestock. Indentured to James Robertson whom he had known in Scotland, he sailed for Hobart Town in the Lusitania and arrived on 29 October 1821. Maclanachan's agreement ended in 1824 and he was granted 100 acres (40 ha) of summer marsh at Hollow Tree near Black (Abyssinia) Tier, but sold it when he became manager of a property at Salt Pan Plains near Ross. At St David's Church, Hobart, on 9 March 1826 he married a widow, Sarah Reddenbury; they had no children.

On 5 November 1827 he was sworn in as a division constable of Methven parish and later appointed poundkeeper. After Maclanachan's house was robbed in 1828 and many of his sheep were stolen at York Plains, he retaliated by bringing several runaway convicts to justice. He broke up the gang of the notorious villain, Samuel Hillary, who escaped but his shepherd was executed for felony and two accomplices were sent to Macquarie Harbour. When Maclanachan's home was raided by hostile Aboriginals in his absence, his wife 'purely by her resolution' fought them off. In 1830 he applied for another land grant but was refused because he had sold his original grant. With support from some landowners, he petitioned Lieutenant-Governor Arthur to reconsider the decision, claiming that 'by economy approaching to parsimony he had saved sufficient to put him into possession of a flock of 1800 improved sheep, 3 horses, 75 cattle and a set of agricultural implements'. Arthur was not impressed but in January 1831 rewarded Maclanachan's fearless conduct as a constable by allowing him 500 acres (202 ha) on conditions of residence.

Maclanachan resigned his official duties in February 1835 and selected 500 acres (202 ha) near Tunbridge, calling his property Ballochmyle after an area in Ayrshire famous for its association with Robert Burns. By 1842 he had cut a drain to carry water from Tunbridge town to Ballochmyle and bought more land at Salt Pan Plains. He was appointed a justice of the peace in September 1843 and later became chairman of the Court of General Sessions at Oatlands and of the Great Lake Road District. He represented Oatlands in the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1859-62 and Jordan in the Legislative Council in 1868-84. He attended regularly but sat on only one select committee and introduced only one bill, protection of land against trespassers, which did not reach the council. His major role was presenting petitions, most of them against state aid to religion.

As a youth Maclanachan had been attracted by the prize-winning black-faced sheep of the Muirkirk area exhibited at the Highland Society's shows. In 1836 he fought an absurd battle with James and Edmund Bryant, stockbreeders of Sandhill near Jericho, who had allegedly challenged him to show against them but then refused. However, his zeal for exhibiting livestock was not abated and in September 1838 he helped to found the Midland Agricultural Association; he was its first secretary and treasurer until 1875 and patron until 1883, winning many valuable prizes. At Ballochmyle he built many aviaries and claimed to have introduced to Tasmania hares and pheasants as well as sixty varieties of singing birds. In his last years he was threatened by an apoplectic stroke and lived quietly.

A staunch supporter of the Free Church of Scotland, Maclanachan had served as an elder of the church at Campbell Town and treasurer of synod's funds; on his retirement he was presented with an address and a purse of sovereigns. He died from paralysis at his home on 22 January 1884. Predeceased by his wife, he was buried in her vault near Kirklands, Campbell Town. His death was given on his tombstone as 1881 but his death registration and his probate gave 1884. He left an estate valued at £5428 and bequeathed his prize cups, plated ware, candelabra, tea and coffee services, books and pictures to the six sons of Dr William Crooke, £1000 to his niece in Scotland and £100 for building a Presbyterian Church at Tunbridge and £400 for its first minister.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Heyer, The Presbyterian Pioneers of Van Diemen's Land (Hob, 1935)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 2 (Lond, 1952)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 12 Mar 1859
  • CSO 1/353/8053
  • correspondence file on Maclanachan (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

'Maclanachan, James (1799–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 29 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 5

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