Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Macintosh (1821–1911)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

John Macintosh (1821-1911), ironmonger, alderman and politician, was born on 8 July 1821 at Auldearn, Nairn, Scotland, son of James Macintosh, farm manager, and his wife Barbara, née Watson. Educated at the local parish school, he was orphaned at 10 and worked as a farm labourer for 2s. 6d. a month. In September 1838 he sailed with his sister and brother-in-law in the Asia as bounty immigrants and reached Sydney on 10 May 1839. He went up country and worked at fencing, splitting, tobacco planting and whatever else was available; employed in a store on the Paterson River for five years, he used his spare time to educate himself. In 1846 he set up in Sydney as an ironmonger and soon had twelve employees making nails, hinges and other hardware. With 'an inventive turn of mind' and 'always anxious to be a manufacturer', he was looking for suitable premises for a factory when the gold rush lured all his men. On 10 May 1849 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church he had married Caroline Alway; although blind she 'was of great use' to him in building up a flourishing business.

From December 1861 to November 1877 Macintosh represented Macquarie Ward in the Sydney City Council. For years he advocated an increased water supply and improved sewerage in the belief that cleanliness and plenty of pure water were the best means of ensuring the city's health. In 1867 he proposed a scheme for diverting sewerage from Sydney Harbour to Bondi, and it was later carried out. In 1869 he chaired Henry Parkes's testimonial fund, but in 1872 was elected to the Legislative Assembly for East Sydney as a supporter of James Martin. He sought larger funds for municipalities and in 1873 successfully moved for a select committee on their operation; as chairman he stressed that their inadequate endowments prevented them from carrying out improvements. In 1874 he criticized Governor Robinson's minute on the Gardiner case and voted against Parkes's ministry on the issue.

As an alderman Macintosh was perturbed by the condition of the unemployed and recommended numbers of the destitute to the commissioner of railways for free passes to the country where many found work. In June 1877 in the estimates debate he argued that before £100,000 was voted for assisted immigration proper arrangements should be made for the migrants' reception in the interior. In July he carried a resolution that all reports relevant to immigration be tabled in the House. In 1880 he told a select committee that the creation of local boards in the country was urgent if work was to be found for migrants. Regular in attending parliament, Macintosh introduced unsuccessful bills on patents and copyright. In 1880 he did not seek re-election after his wife died but in 1881 was appointed to the Legislative Council where he served on many committees.

Macintosh was a Freemason and in 1865 treasurer of the Robert Burns Chapter. An early supporter of the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, he served on its committee from 1863 and as vice-president in 1875, later helping to found Sydney Technical College. A magistrate from 1868, he was a director and treasurer of the Australian Permanent Building and Investment Society and a trustee and sometime president of the Second Industrial Benefit Building and Investment Society. In the 1870s he made his two elder sons partners in his business as J. Macintosh & Sons. In 1879 the firm supplied the government with £352 worth of iron and hardware for the Exhibition Building. By the mid-1880s he had over forty employees and each month was distributing and selling over 500 tons of hardware. Although a total abstainer and member of the local Temperance Alliance, Macintosh's appointment in 1882-84 as a licensing magistrate was approved by publicans. In 1883 he was a New South Wales commissioner for the Amsterdam Exhibition and in 1890-91 served on the royal commission into the city and suburban railways.

About 1870 Macintosh had bought Lindsay, Darling Point, and later acquired an estate at Burradoo. Survived by three sons and four daughters, he died at Lindsay on 6 July 1911 and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £49,000. His home was later bequeathed to the Women's Committee of the New South Wales branch of the National Trust of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, 5, 154, 1878-79, 1, 492, 7, 661, 1879-80, 5, 796
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1869, 7 July 1911
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 29 May 1875
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 29 May 1894
  • Old Times (Sydney), Apr 1903
  • CO 201/577, 583, 597
  • manuscript catalogue (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Macintosh, John (1821–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 May 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]


8 July, 1821
Auldearn, Nairn, Scotland


6 July, 1911 (aged 89)
Darling Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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