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Sir John McCall (1860–1919)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

Sir John McCall (1860-1919), medical practitioner, politician and agent-general, was born on 10 August 1860 at East Devonport, Tasmania, son of John Hair McCall, pharmacist, and his wife Johanna, née Shanahan. He was educated at Don and the University of Glasgow (M.B.; C.M., 1881), Scotland. On 4 May 1880 he had married a Glaswegian, Mary Cluckie (d.1896). McCall returned to Tasmania to practise at Waratah where he was also medical officer for the Mount Bischoff mine. He settled at Ulverstone about 1885 where his practice developed and he became a large landowner.

He was soon active on many local bodies, including the Forth Road Trust, the Leven Municipal Council and the Leven licensing bench. In his work on the Leven Marine Board and the Leven Harbour Trust he did much to further the development of Ulverstone's port. Both McCall and his father were elected to the Tasmanian parliament in 1888, McCall senior to the Legislative Council for Mersey and his son to the House of Assembly for West Devon, vacated by (Sir) Edward Braddon. McCall's hold on this seat was linked closely with Braddon's career. In the 1893 election he stood aside for the returning agent-general who was soon to become premier, but in 1900 he came within eight votes of defeating Braddon, and in 1901 he won back the seat after Braddon moved to the House of Representatives. McCall held the seat until 1909, during which time he vigorously promoted development of the rapidly growing north-west coast.

McCall was chief secretary and minister for agriculture in the Propsting government of April 1903–July 1904. A particular interest in health and local government matters lay behind his introduction of a new Public Health Act (1903) that consolidated and reformed existing legislation, while many of his ideas were embodied in a new local government bill. The bill had not been passed before the government fell, but the Evans government accepted its proposals and eventually asked McCall to pilot them through the House. In 1905 Glasgow University awarded him an M.D. for his thesis on the management of smallpox.

According to the Hobart Mercury McCall 'found his place' when he was appointed as Tasmania's seventh agent-general in 1909. A competent administrator and an enthusiastic spokesman for his State, he worked hard to attract capital to Tasmania. Mount Lyell mines, Launceston white lead works and the encouragement of hydro-electric power generation were among the developments influenced by his activity. He was also a director of several companies floated in London for Tasmanian ventures. He was knighted in 1911.

McCall made a brief visit home in 1913, and on the outbreak of World War I the former Tasmanian Volunteer (from 1897) was appointed medical officer in charge of the Australian Auxiliary Hospital, London, with the rank of major (August 1915). As president of the Australian Natives' Association in London, he was largely responsible for the Anzac Buffet which entertained Australian and New Zealand servicemen. Many Tasmanians expressed their gratitude for his attention to their needs and for the welcome he and Lady McCall gave soldiers on leave. McCall was chairman of the Australian Voluntary Hospital at Wimereux, France, and he helped to organize a convalescent home for Belgian soldiers in France, for which he was awarded the Belgian Order of the Crown. He was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1919.

On 27 June 1919 McCall died in London of pneumonia and was buried in Putney Vale cemetery. He was survived by his second wife, Claire Pearson, née Reynolds, whom he had married on 20 November 1900 in Hobart, by their two sons and by a son and a daughter of his first marriage.

A member of the Church of England, McCall was a man of great energy and a fine orator. The Times described him as 'a virile character of much integrity and sympathy, whose help and counsel were always at the disposal of a fellow-Australian'.

Select Bibliography

  • Mercury (Hobart), 30 June 1919
  • Examiner (Launceston), 30 June 1919
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 30 June 1919, p 16.

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'McCall, Sir John (1860–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 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

John McCall (1860-1919), by J. W. Beattie

John McCall (1860-1919), by J. W. Beattie

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125881243

Life Summary [details]


10 August, 1860
Devonport, Tasmania, Australia


27 June, 1919 (aged 58)
London, Middlesex, England

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