Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alexander Rose Macdonald (1845–1931)

by A. C. Crombie

This article was published:

Alexander Rose Macdonald (1845-1931), civil servant, was born on 24 March 1845 in Inverness-shire, Scotland, son of Rev. Dr Donald Macdonald and his wife Ann, née Rose. He was educated at Inverness Academy and the Grammar Schools in the Old Town and New Town of Aberdeen. In 1860-64 he attended the University of Aberdeen, where he held a bursary of £10 a year, passed in 'classics' with a gold medal in Greek but did not take a degree. In 1870 he went to Queensland with his brother James and £5000 each from their father. The brothers invested in a 640-acre (260 ha) sugar plantation called Inverness, near Mackay. James broke down and in March 1875 they were declared insolvent, with debts of over £10,000. In July 1878 their certificate of discharge was granted and Alexander went droving on the Palmer. On 3 November 1880 at the Presbyterian Church, Mackay, he married Nancy Armitage.

In December 1881 Macdonald was appointed immigration agent at Mackay and inspector of Pacific Islanders. His sympathy for the Kanakas led to stories that he was twice shipwrecked taking them back to the islands. He certainly took every opportunity to send sick Kanakas to their island homes. In 1883 he inquired into charges made in the Melbourne Leader and Age by George Ernest Morrison against the captain and crew of the recruiting ship Lavinia. Macdonald questioned Morrison's veracity and concluded that 'a person of such very remarkable imaginative powers can, no doubt, with equal readiness and ease conjure up scenes that no eye has ever beheld outside of hell; and this record of the “Lavinia's” voyage must surely be one of those unhealthy visions'. He was backed by (Sir) Samuel Griffith. Despite his acknowledged zeal, he was criticized by E. W. Docker in The Blackbirders (Sydney, 1970) for his failure to find any reason than change of climate for the death of twenty-five New Irelanders on the Colonial Sugar Refining Co.'s Homebush plantation.

In August 1888 Macdonald became police magistrate, assistant land agent and district registrar at Aramac. Next year he moved to Eidsvold where he was also gold warden and mineral lands commissioner. In 1891-93 he held the latter office for Palmer while police magistrate, acting land commissioner and assistant land agent at Maytown. In 1893-95 he was stationed at Herberton and was also visiting justice for the police gaol. In 1895 he was posted to Charters Towers and in 1896 to Georgetown.

On 1 November 1899 Macdonald became under-secretary for the Department of Mines and gold warden for Brisbane. His experience as gold warden and mineral lands commissioner gave him a wide knowledge of mining in many parts of Queensland. With help from the parliamentary draftsman he drew up the Mining Act of 1901. Although amended, the Act has remained the basis of Queensland's mining legislation. He resigned on 24 March 1915. In his long retirement he often regaled his descendants with tales of the mining fields and the Pacific islands. He died on 21 December 1931 at Greenslopes and was buried in the Toowong cemetery, survived by four daughters and three of his five sons. His descendants live on both sides of the world.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1883-84, 1435
  • Queensland Government Mining Journal, 15 Jan 1932
  • insolvency papers (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. C. Crombie, 'Macdonald, Alexander Rose (1845–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 March, 1845
Inverness-shire, Scotland


21 December, 1931 (aged 86)
Greenslopes, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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