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McBride, Sir Peter (1867–1923)

by Andrew Spaull

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

Sir Peter McBride (1867-1923), politician, was born on 9 February 1867 at Dunolly, Victoria, third son of Peter McBride, storekeeper, and his wife Catherine, née Hazle, both from Scotland. After attending Dunolly State School and Wesley College, Melbourne, he went into his father's St Arnaud timber and general hardware store. He became a successful local trader with a reputation as an enlightened employer, and a mining investor. On 26 October 1892 at East Melbourne, with Wesleyan forms, he married his cousin Mary Isabella Lawson.

In 1897 McBride was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the seat of Kara Kara. As a back-bencher he took an informed interest in mining, forestry and river development, serving on the royal commission on State forests in 1900 and for five years on the standing committee on railways. Never one for oratory, he preferred the written word, corresponding prolifically with constituents, ministers and government departments. He also collected statistical detail on the primary and extractive industries. He became best known in the precincts of Spring Street at theatres and restaurants and in racing and yachting circles; he was very much the country squire in town, complete with cigar, bountiful table and unaffected amiability. He belonged to the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron and Tennis Club as well as the Athenaeum, Commercial Travellers' and West Brighton clubs. His popularity probably helped his appointment as minister of mines and of forests and vice-president of the Board of Lands and Works in the Murray Liberal government of 1909.

Following the financial collapse of the Korumburra-Outtrim coal-mines—to the advantage of the New South Wales coal cartel—and increasing trade union unrest in the interstate coal and maritime industries, the Murray ministry promised to establish a reliable source of black coal for the railways and manufacturing industries. McBride was wary of disturbing the sanctity of private ownership of mining in Australia, but a New South Wales miners' strike lasting four months late in 1909 forced him to introduce legislation for an 'emergency' government coal-mining operation near the Powlett River. The Mines Department took immediate control to operate Australia's first modern state coal-mine, at what was to become Wonthaggi.

McBride shielded the scheme from concerted attacks from private mining interests, the Melbourne press and members of his own party. In 1910-11 he demonstrated clearly Wonthaggi coal's competitive price and value to the railways. He accused a 1910 select committee of inquiry of self-interest and disparaged its members as 'patriots who might be spared for their country's good'. The government was forced to transfer control of the mine to the railway commissioners but it remained state run until its closure in 1968.

As forests minister McBride was responsible for the establishment of the Creswick Forestry School in 1910. In April to October 1911 he was acting chief secretary. Next year in the Watt ministry, with railways added to his portfolios, he oversaw the electrification of the metropolitan railway system. In mines, building on the success of the State Coal Mine, he protected the brown coalfields from private mining ventures and expanded the Department of Mines' boring on the brown coal reserves.

In January 1913 McBride was appointed Victorian agent-general in London. Taking up his post in April, he voiced his belief in increased preference to British manufacturers. His office spanned the war period and he and his wife were unstinting in their work for servicemen in London; their dedication was undoubtedly influenced by the enlistment of their two sons, one of whom was killed in action.

Knighted in 1915 and also decorated by the Belgian and Serbian governments for his wartime efforts, McBride remained in London after his retirement in 1922. The Royal Thames Yacht and the Royal Automobile were among the nine clubs to which he belonged. Perhaps remembering Australian summers, he chased the winter sun at Cannes, France, where he died suddenly on 3 March 1923. His wife, son and daughter survived him. His political career had not been spectacular; but he ably served Victoria in the orderly development of natural resources and his role in the establishment of state mining of black coal established an important precedent for the public ownership and mining of the brown coalfields under the authority of the State Electricity Commission.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Y. S. Palmer, Track of the Years (Melb, 1955)
  • J. M. Coghlan (ed), The State Coal Mine and Wonthaggi, 1909-1968 (Wonthaggi, Vic, 1979)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Victoria), 1910 (A1)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 18 May 1911, 13 Apr 1916
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11 Jan 1913, 6 Mar 1923
  • 'Sir Peter McBride', Times (London), 7 Mar 1923, p 12
  • Dunolly and Betbetshire Express, 9 Mar 1923
  • A. D. Spaull, The Origins and Rise of the Victorian Brown Coal Industry, 1835-1935 (M. Com. thesis, 1967, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

Andrew Spaull, 'McBride, Sir Peter (1867–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcbride-sir-peter-7295/text12653, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 29 November 2014.

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

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