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Charles Macdonald (1851–1903)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William Neil Macdonald

Charles MacDonald (1851-1903) and William Neil MacDonald (1860-1910), overlanders and pastoralists, were sons of Donald MacDonald and his wife Anne, née McAllum. Their father had migrated to Sydney from the Isle of Skye and their mother from Mull; they were married in the parish of Goulburn on 10 July 1849. Charles was born on 5 October 1851 and William Neil on 21 September 1860. The family moved to Clifford's Creek, Laggan, and the brothers became expert bushmen.

Inspired by Alexander Forrest's report in 1879 on the possibilities of the Kimberley district, the brothers were joined by two MacKenzie cousins, Peter Thomson, James McGeorge and Jasper Pickles. They set out from Laggan on 26 March 1883 with 500 cattle, 2 teams of bullocks and 50 horses on one of the longest droving trips across the continent. In north-western New South Wales the herd was increased by 500. Drought conditions delayed progress and most of the original party withdrew long before Cooper's Creek was reached. Stock losses were replaced, only to be reduced again by the continued drought. The brothers pushed on slowly into the Northern Territory and in 1885 arrived at the Katherine, where Charles became ill and had to be taken home via Darwin, leaving William to continue the journey with the remaining cattle. After eleven months of hardship and trouble with marauding Aboriginals, William arrived on 3 June 1886 at the junction of the Victoria and Margaret Rivers, where he took up land and named it Fossil Downs. Rejoined by Charles, the partnership developed into what was to become the largest privately-owned cattle station in Australia, over a million acres (404,690 ha).

Charles died a bachelor at Goulburn on 30 August 1903 but requested that William's heir be called Kimberley after the district they had developed. At Goulburn on 30 April 1902 William married Ida Oliver and took her to live at Ingleside, Knox Street, Derby, Western Australia, where a son was born on 26 July 1903. William died on 16 July 1910 at the Waverley Hospital in Perth.

The two MacDonalds were noted for their kindness and hospitality and highly respected for their courage and endurance during the overlanding epic of 3500 miles (5633 km) and their pioneering work at Fossil Downs. The property was still held by the family in 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • C. MacAlister, Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South (Goulburn, 1907)
  • G. Buchanan, Packhorse and Waterhole (Syd, 1933)
  • M. Durack, Kings in Grass Castles (Lond, 1959)
  • Goulburn & District Historical Society, Bulletin, Sept 1972.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Macdonald, Charles (1851–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 July 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]


5 October, 1851


30 August, 1903 (aged 51)
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

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