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Dora Maclean (1892–1978)

by Heather B. Ronald

This article was published:

Dora Maclean, 1940s

Dora Maclean, 1940s

photo provided by her family

Dora Maclean (1892-1978), horse-breeder, was born on 12 April 1892 at North Fitzroy, Melbourne, second of four children of Samuel William Gibson, draper, and his wife Mary, née Marshall, both from Glasgow, Scotland. Samuel had come to Victoria with his wife in 1889 to join his uncle William Gibson; in 1908 he became manager of the Collingwood branch of Foy & Gibson Pty Ltd. Dora grew up at Kew and was educated at Presbyterian Ladies' College, but she was a country girl at heart and much preferred to be at Fenwick, her father's 320-acre (130 ha) property at Yan Yean. He had bought this farm in 1903 and named it after the small village of his Scottish childhood. At Fenwick he bred Clydesdales. On his death in 1918, his surviving daughters Eva and Dora inherited the property.

The sisters established a Corriedale sheep stud and exhibited with success at major shows until Eva's death in 1923. Their mother died in the same year. Dora accompanied her younger brother James on an extended tour of Europe and Britain, during which she confidently selected foundation stock from which to breed Arabian horses and Shetland ponies. She had an eye for a good horse and could pick the potential of a foal long before others could see it. Between 1924 and 1960 Dora imported nineteen Shetlands from the foremost studs in Britain. She also imported eighteen purebred Arabians, sixteen of them from the Crabbet Stud. On 1 December 1925 at the Presbyterian Church, Toorak, she married Alexander David Dick Maclean, a 29-year-old engineer who had arrived from Scotland that year to join the family firm.

All Mrs Maclean's stock was registered in stud books kept in Britain. Recognizing the need for local records, she became a foundation member of the Australian Pony Stud Book Society in 1931. She was elected to the initial committee of its Victorian branch in 1947, and later made an honorary life member. Dora was also a founding member (1956) and patron (1975-78) of the Arab Horse Society of Australasia (Arabian Horse Society of Australia), and helped to establish (1962) its Victorian branch. Highly respected in both organizations, she did more than any other to promote proper recording in the national stud books. She persistently tried to have Arabian blood formally recognized by the A.P.S.B.S., believing that the qualities it had contributed to Australian ponies in the past should be retained as an out-cross for breeders.

Before World War II Fenwick had been run by a predominantly male staff. When girls from the Australian Women's Land Army arrived to work the property, Dora liked the way they handled the horses; after the war she employed only females. The thorough training given by Mrs Maclean in stud management and show preparation guaranteed employment in the industry and assisted workers to establish their own studs. In the 1960s there were almost one hundred Shetland ponies and more than seventy Arabians sharing the property (by then 640 acres [259 ha]) with beef cattle.

Gifted with character rather than beauty, Dora Maclean was quite short, with clear, lively eyes her best feature. Although forthright and determined, she was a person of integrity and kindness who shared her knowledge of Arabians and Shetlands. She died on 14 September 1978 at Toorak and was cremated; her husband, daughter and two sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • The Arabian Horse in Australia (Syd, 1980)
  • M. Costello, Australian Pony Stud Book Society, its Growth and Development (Melb, 1981)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Heather B. Ronald, 'Maclean, Dora (1892–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Dora Maclean, 1940s

Dora Maclean, 1940s

photo provided by her family

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gibson, Dora

12 April, 1892
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


14 September, 1978 (aged 86)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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