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William Macredie (1813–1891)

by Marjorie J. Tipping

This article was published:

William Macredie (1813-1891), insurance manager and philanthropist, was born on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, son of Robert Macredie, sailor, and his wife Elizabeth, née Cunningham. He visited Canada in his late teens and in his early twenties was sent by the Phoenix Fire Insurance Co. of London to establish the first successful insurance agency in Trinidad. He lived there for sixteen years and travelled widely in both North and South America. He went to Victoria in the early 1850s, joining his four brothers who were early squatters. In 1855-56 he was in partnership with Matthew Lang, wine and spirits merchant, in Elizabeth Street. With business acumen, he looked after the extensive interests of his cousin Archibald Cuninghame (d.1856), a barrister who had returned to England as agent for the Victorian colonists in their plea for separation and had remained there as Victoria's first unofficial agent-general.

In 1857 Macredie became manager of the Australasian Insurance Co. but in 1863, after building up the business so that shares rose from 20s. to 55s., he resigned and became a partner of Hastings Cuningham. The formation of Cuningham & Macredie as wool brokers, woolstore owners and stock and station agents was a turning point for Australia in wool marketing. The company conducted sales in Melbourne and imported many high-grade rams from Germany and elsewhere. It provided finance for those who wished to buy through the local market. Later it became the Australasian Mortgage & Agency Co. Ltd. In addition the Macredie family held interests in several pastoral properties and engaged in extensive and remunerative quartz-crushing operations. Cuningham & Macredie lasted until 1868 when Macredie became secretary of the Pastoral Association of Victoria. He was also made secretary of the National Insurance Co. which had headquarters in Melbourne with branches throughout Victoria and in other colonies. The success of mutual life assurance in America suggested to Macredie that the idea would be successful in Victoria. In 1869 he helped to merge his company in the new National Mutual Life Association of Australia and served as its first secretary until 1872. He also negotiated the take-over of several smaller insurance companies.

In 1856 Macredie had published two pamphlets: Roads for Victoria: How to Make them cheaply, efficiently, and quickly under the pseudonym 'An old Backwoodsman'; and State aid to Religion in Victoria. His amusing and invaluable paper, 'Personal Reminiscences on Insurance Business', was delivered to the Insurance Institute of Victoria in October 1886. Many big businessmen were then becoming involved in shady speculations but Macredie retained his integrity and social conscience. His philanthropic work in Melbourne included the Women's Hospital, which he helped to found and served as honorary secretary for many years. He was also active in establishing the Society for Assisting Persons of Education and remained on its committee until 1891. A shrewd investor and wise administrator, he had a lively and inquiring mind and often commented on current events and social problems in the Argus and elsewhere. A noted raconteur, he used to tell stories of Melbourne's early fires fought with primitive appliances and hampered by the slowness of carting water from the Yarra.

Macredie and his wife Anne Fuller, née Stone, were closely associated with the Church of England. They had many friends and in 1858 built Elm Tree House at the corner of Domain Road and Walsh Street, South Yarra. There Macredie died of pneumonia on 27 April 1891 and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery with the mayor, Matthew Lang, as his chief pall-bearer. He was survived by his wife and their only daughter Alice, who retained the family home for many years.

Macredie's brothers were well-known Victorian pastoral pioneers. Robert Reid arrived in 1838 and in the early 1840s went searching for runs in the Wimmera. He was given licence to 80,000 acres (32,375 ha) at Avoca and Wycheproof in 1846-48 and held Banyenong West in 1846-55 and Laen in 1846-58. His brother Andrew, an artist of merit, arrived in 1848 and was Robert's partner at Banyenong West in 1855-61, took over Laen in 1858-61 and held Watchem in 1859-64 jointly with Robert who, however, died in 1859 at Stuttgart, Germany. The property remained in their joint names until their brother George (1826-1883) bought out the interest. When Banyenong West was subdivided in 1861 William took over part of the run. George and his brother John arrived in August 1840 as cabin passengers in the Culdee. They were in partnership at Lillirice station on Mount Emu Creek near Portland from 1845 until John sold his interest and returned to Scotland in 1853. In 1844 George had been an active member of the committee formed at the separation meeting in Melbourne. Like Robert, George had been appointed a territorial magistrate by Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe in 1852. George held Watchem station in 1864-70 and for some time was a member of the firm of Cuningham & Macredie.

Select Bibliography

  • T. F. Bride (ed), Letters from Victorian Pioneers (Melb, 1898)
  • R. V. Billis and A. S. Kenyon, Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip (Melb, 1932)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 4-5 (Lond, 1959-63)
  • National Mutual Life Assn of Australasia, A Century of Life (Melb, 1969)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 15 Nov 1886, 18 May 1891
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Apr 1891
  • Cuninghame papers, vols 1-3 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Marjorie J. Tipping, 'Macredie, William (1813–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 20 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]

Alternative Names
  • Backwoodsman, An Old

Isle of Arran, Bute, Scotland


27 April, 1891 (aged ~ 78)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.