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McPherson, Sir Clive (1884–1958)

by C. B. Schedvin

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

Sir Clive McPherson (1884-1958), pastoralist and businessman, was born on 13 January 1884 at St Arnaud, Victoria, second son of Victorian-born parents William George McPherson, bank-manager, and his wife Alice Gertrude, née Mogg. His mother, a gifted pianist, belonged to the pioneering family of nearby pastoral Swanwater. Clive derived from his father a sense of humour and an interest in finance; from his mother, a strong disciplinarian, came his love of independence, order, punctuality and neatness.

In 1890 the family embarked on a grand tour of Europe but on returning to Victoria found its fortunes diminished by the financial crisis. Clive was educated at Caulfield Grammar School, Melbourne, of which he remained intensely proud. At 13 he took up a career in banking. Finding the work too confining, he left to work on his uncle's property, Yallock Vale near Ballan. In 1899 he combined the position of overseer at Bungeeltap with his work at Yallock Vale. During these years he acquired an intimate knowledge of and love for the Victorian countryside. About 1901 McPherson decided to move to Queensland to escape the cold of central Victoria. As a step in the right direction he became bookkeeper on a Riverina property. Not satisfied with purely clerical responsibilities, he worked on the property by day and on the books at night.

In 1903 he became office-manager of McNamara & Co., auctioneers, at Yarrawonga in northern Victoria. His quick analytical mind and powerful memory attracted attention and Jack Thom invited him to join in an auctioneering business, McPherson, Thom, Kettle & Co., with Clive as the managing partner. Formed at a time of large-scale subdivision in the Murray valley, the business prospered and McPherson began to acquire property.

On 7 July 1915 he married Sidney Marion Isabel Orme Wolfenden. The family homestead, Boomanoomana, at Mulwala, New South Wales, and some 4500 acres (1821 ha) was bought in 1920 and in the interwar years McPherson acquired five properties in southern New South Wales and one in Victoria.

In the 1920s McPherson emerged as a leader of the rural community in Victoria. His emphasis on loyalty, trust, obedience, discipline and fiscal frugality marked him as a conservative; his benevolent paternalism kindled the affection of his peers and subordinates alike. Self-confidence and mastery of his own emotions enabled him to resolve conflict with remarkable facility. Six feet (183 cm) tall, handsome and with a capacity to convey understanding and warmth, he attracted as much attention in Melbourne as in the country.

With the growth of government regulation of rural industry his public responsibilities multiplied. In 1927-46 he was Australian government representative on the British Phosphate Commission. He was also a government representative on the Dairy Produce Export Control Board, and served on the Victorian Unemployment Council. His knowledge of closer settlement problems in the Murray valley led to his appointment as a member of the Victorian royal commission set up in 1930 to investigate complaints of British migrant settlers. Then from 1933 to 1938 McPherson was chairman of the Closer Settlement Commission in Victoria. At the nadir of the Depression, with many small settlers ruined financially, the commission was responsible for the reconstruction of farms and for such restoration of financial stability as was possible. The family moved to Melbourne in 1933. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1925 and was knighted in 1941.

McPherson was managing director and chairman of the pastoral house, Younghusband Ltd, from 1938. He joined the board of the National Bank of Australasia Ltd in 1949, following the death of Sir Ernest Wreford, and was a director of the Commonwealth Bank in 1940-45. He served on the board of Royal Melbourne Hospital and offered valuable advice to the finance subcommittee; he had a long association with the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria. He was a friend and admirer of Sir Robert Gibson; among the many friends of his own age were Sir Harold Clapp, Harold Darling, Sir Albert Ellis, (Sir) Leslie McConnan, C. N. McKay and (Sir) Robert Menzies.

McPherson was honorary chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, set up hastily on the outbreak of World War II. Its responsibilities were to acquire compulsorily, store and market the entire Australian crop, previously handled by voluntary pools and private merchants. There was much accumulated bitterness in the conflicting interests of the representatives of growers, merchants, shippers and governments on the board, but due largely to McPherson's strength of character, tact and negotiating skill it was welded into an effective marketing agency. After McPherson relinquished his chairmanship of the Wheat Board in 1945 and was replaced by the Labor government on the Commonwealth Bank Board and British Phosphate Commission, he concentrated on the management of Younghusband Ltd. Annual addresses to shareholders reflected the central themes of his life: the crucial role of the wool industry in the national economy, the need to reduce costs, the dangers of idleness and the value of stability. He condemned excessive taxation and denounced the spread of communist influence. In everything he attempted he strove for excellence, his symbol of perfection being the legendary racehorse, Carbine; his interest in racing was an extension of his devotion to the land. As a member of the Peninsula Golf Club, he enjoyed an occasional round.

Late in life McPherson was serenely untroubled. His portrait, painted in 1950 by William Dargie and in the possession of his daughter, depicts an open countenance, eyes without pain or hardship, skin barely wrinkled and aglow with health, and an aura of benevolence and personal fulfilment. He was able to combine strict self-discipline with regulated gaiety and a keen interest in the younger generation. As an elder on the board of the National Bank, he advised and encouraged younger members such as Sir Rupert Clarke.

McPherson's life was dominated by his public obligations and commitment to primary industry, work and success. Although not a regular church-attender, he was a man of practical Christian principles. Predeceased by his wife in 1946, he died on 10 November 1958 having suffered from coronary sclerosis. Following an Anglican service at Christ Church, South Yarra, he was cremated. His daughter survived him. His estate was valued for probate in Victoria at £95,224.

Select Bibliography

  • C. J. Perrett, Australian Wheat Board 1939-65 (Melb, nd)
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 22 Jan 1944
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 Nov 1958
  • Younghusband Ltd papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. B. Schedvin, 'McPherson, Sir Clive (1884–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcpherson-sir-clive-713/text12949, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 November 2018.

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

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