Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Donaldson (1841–1896)

by Mary O'Keeffe

This article was published:

John Donaldson (1841-1896), pastoralist and politician, was born on 15 June 1841 at Purdeet, Mount Rouse, Victoria, son of Alexander Donaldson, pastoralist, and his wife Bridget, née McElroy. After his father's death he began to follow pastoral pursuits in a small way, and in time became the active partner in Moody, Donaldson, Inglis & Co. In 1876 he went to New South Wales to manage Pangee station and in 1881 moved to Queensland to manage another station, Mount Margaret, acquired by the company. In 1883 Donaldson was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the Warrego. His experience in other colonies led him to take an active interest in the debates on the 1884 land bill. Although a member of the Opposition he represented the government in a conference between the two Houses to settle their differences over the bill. In 1885 he became manager of the Union Mortgage and Agency Co. and the next year warned parliament against the 'wild cat' mining companies being floated in London.

When the Warrego electorate was divided in 1887 Donaldson retained part of his old seat as member for the Bulloo. He served under Thomas McIlwraith as postmaster-general and secretary of public instruction from 13 June 1888 and continued in those offices when Boyd Morehead became premier. On 19 November 1889 he was appointed colonial treasurer and on 24 July 1890 presented his budget. He showed that the colony's deficit had increased in the previous year from £484,000 to £969,000, which he proposed to meet by a property tax of 1d. in the £ on 'all property above the value of £500' and by an increase in duties on spirits. When his land and income tax bill was carried by only two votes, the government resigned on 12 August. Unable to support the Griffith-McIlwraith coalition, Donaldson became leader of the Opposition on 16 September but resigned his seat in August 1891. In March he had been one of the Queensland delegates to the National Australasian Convention at Sydney where he unsuccessfully urged that control of all the railways be given to the federal government. He was president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Natives' Association.

By 1891 Donaldson had become a local director of the Commercial Bank of Australia, a director of the Queensland Deposit Bank and Building Society, a member of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce and president of the Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland. Proud of his descent, he was vice-president of the various Scottish societies and was associated with many different sporting organizations. His interest in the pastoral industry continued; he was a founder and later vice-president of the Queensland Stock Breeders and Graziers Association and a trustee of the United Pastoralists Association. Anxious about increasing labour disturbances and unable to resist the pressure of his friends, Donaldson consented to return to politics. After two defeats he was elected for the Logan in 1896 but resigned rather than let a petition against his return go to the Elections Tribunal. He was re-elected with an increased majority, but rarely appeared in the House. Always straightforward, Donaldson was popular and became known as 'honest John'. He died from kidney disease on 25 July 1896 at his Brisbane home, Knowsley, Coorparoo, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Toowong cemetery. He was predeceased by his first wife Margaret, née Walker, whom he had married in Victoria in 1869, and her only daughter, but was survived by his second wife Gertrude Evelyn, née Willis, two sons by his first marriage and a son and two daughters by his second. In parliament John 'Plumper' Hoolan paid tribute to Donaldson: 'Although not of the same politics as myself, I learned to respect him long before I met him on the floor of the House, for his very generous and magnanimous dealings in certain commercial enterprises'.

Select Bibliography

  • Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates (Syd, 1891)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1883-96
  • A. A. Morrison, ‘Some Lesser Members of Parliament in Queensland’, Journal (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), vol 6, no 3, 1960-61, pp 557-79
  • Brisbane Courier, 5 July 1896
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 July 1896
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Aug 1896.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Mary O'Keeffe, 'Donaldson, John (1841–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 June, 1841
Purdeet, Victoria, Australia


25 July, 1896 (aged 55)
Coorparoo, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

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