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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McMillan, Samuel (1859–1931)

by Joan Gillison

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

Samuel McMillan (1859-1931), coachmaker, wheelwright, blacksmith and inventor, was born on 12 December 1859 at Mansfield, Victoria, eldest son of Thomas McMillan, farmer, and his wife Margaret, née Maclure; his grandparents Samuel and Janette McMillan had migrated to Victoria from Scotland in 1840 and eventually acquired the Logan Falls farm near Mansfield. The young Samuel attended Mansfield Common School which his father, determined that his children should have the schooling which he himself had been denied, had helped to establish. A bright, inventive boy, Samuel used his spare time making tools and toys and, noting this, his father apprenticed him to William Carey, a skilled local blacksmith and coachbuilder; he continued his training under Michael Ridge of Jamieson and at Johnstone's Foundry, Melbourne, where he perfected his skill as a wheelwright.

Returning to Mansfield, McMillan joined William Rundel, blacksmith, wheelwright and coachbuilder, in his business. The pair built a splendid reputation, winning over one hundred awards at country and town shows in Victoria. They early used a four-horse-power steam engine to increase production and they employed an artist, named Wells, to decorate their coaches, buggies and jinkers. When Rundel retired McMillan continued the business with increasing success.

He put his inventive ability to good purpose. Where the window-light was strongest in his big smithy in High Street, he set up a large blackboard and on this drew designs of possible inventions to the interest of customers, passers-by and children going home from school. He invented a rabbit-poisoning machine known as 'The Ringer' which, though difficult to use in the hilly country of Mansfield, was most successful in New South Wales and Western Australia. In 1885 McMillan became the first Mansfield exporter when the machine was sold in the United States of America. He patented a self-closing spring gate fastener and designed an improved clothes peg. In later years he spent much time designing an aeroplane. He was one of the first in Mansfield to fly as a passenger over Mount Buller; he was also one of the first to own and drive a motor car, an early model known as 'The Little'.

McMillan lent generous support to many public activities and despite increasing deafness never lost interest in his town. He was a member of the Mansfield Hospital committee and a commissioner of the waterworks trust. He was a Freemason and Oddfellow and won many competitions with the Mansfield Gun Club. A skilled horseman, he was famed for his fast but safe driving of his four-in-hand team. He was unmarried. He suffered from diabetes and died at Mansfield on 22 March 1931 and was buried in the local cemetery. No man, it was said, had more true friends. Years before, at a dinner given by the people of Mansfield to honour McMillan, the chairman in proposing the toast had declaimed, 'Longfellow wrote that men do not go to Paradise in coaches but I'd be proud to go in one of Sam's!'

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gillison, Colonial Doctor and His Town (Melb, 1974)
  • Royal Historical Society of Victoria, Journal, 43 (May 1972), no 2
  • Mansfield Courier, 5 Oct, 25 Nov 1885, 6 Jan 1890, 18 Jan 1893, 8 June 1895, 27 Mar 1931
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Joan Gillison, 'McMillan, Samuel (1859–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 10

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