Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James MacDougall (1858–1942)

by Warren Friend

This article was published:

James MacDougall (1858-1942), manufacturer, was born on 9 July 1858 in Glasgow, Scotland, son of James McDougall, master pastry baker, and his wife Agnes, née Malcolm. He was educated at Glasgow High School and began his business career in 1874 with the Clydesdale Bank in Glasgow, later becoming a teller. In 1881 he migrated to Victoria where he opened a wine and spirit importing business in Melbourne. On 28 March 1883 at Clinker Hill, Castlemaine, he married Elizabeth Brydie McRobbie with Presbyterian forms.

In 1889 MacDougall established the Austral Nail Co. in South Melbourne, next year forming it into a limited liability company with himself as managing director. The undertaking flourished and in 1896 he sold his importing business. From making nails the company expanded into barbed wire in 1905 and wiredrawing in 1911. MacDougall's three sons, all of whom served in World War I, joined him in the business.

During the war Prime Minister W. M. Hughes requested MacDougall to establish a mill to meet Australia's wartime wire requirements. After negotiations with Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd, for the supply of wire rods, MacDougall agreed. By 1919 the company was producing 300 tons of wire per week and that year opened a second plant at Newcastle, New South Wales. In 1921 Austral amalgamated with an English company to become Rylands Bros (Australia) Ltd. MacDougall relinquished the managing directorship in 1925 when the new company merged with B.H.P.

After retirement MacDougall played a major role in the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures. A member of the executive since 1920, he was president in 1927-32. Following his election he helped to revitalize the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia which had not met for two years; he initiated a new constitution, re-ordered the finances and served as president in 1927-29 and 1931-32. MacDougall presented the employers' case to Nationalist and Labor governments persuasively and directly. At the same time, like many employers, he believed that management and labour had common interests and that their differences could be reconciled. With the agreement of S. M. (Viscount) Bruce he convened the Commonwealth Industrial Conference in Melbourne on 6-9 December 1928. As an attempt at national reconciliation the conference failed, achieving little but an exchange of platitudes. However, it is a measure of the respect in which MacDougall was held by both the government and the labour movement that he was successful in arranging the meeting at all.

MacDougall was a director of several public companies. He also served on the council of the New Settlers' League of Victoria, on the Kew City Council and in 1933-41 on the Council of the University of Melbourne. He belonged to Melbourne Rotary Club. A small man, he had regular features, a goatee beard and a benign expression which belied the determination he brought to his business activities. His wife died in 1929 and on 3 March 1932 at Scots Church, Melbourne, he married Constance Jamieson, daughter of Daniel McAlpine.

MacDougall died on 8 April 1942 at Cliveden Mansions, East Melbourne, and was cremated, survived by his second wife and his sons. He left an estate valued for probate at £20,475.

Select Bibliography

  • Victorian Chamber of Manufactures Gazette, 27 June 1927
  • BHP Review, Feb 1937
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Apr 1942.

Citation details

Warren Friend, 'MacDougall, James (1858–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 July, 1858
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


8 April, 1942 (aged 83)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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