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Peter McCann (1828–1908)

by Philip McKay

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Wesley Burrett McCann

Peter McCann (1828-1908), builder, quarrymaster and cement manufacturer, and Wesley Burrett Peter McCann (1874-1961), cement manufacturer, were father and son. Peter was born on 18 September 1828 at Parramatta, New South Wales, son of Nicholas McCann (1803-1880), stonecutter, and his wife Catherine, née Johnson. His mother died in 1831 shortly after the family moved to Georgetown, Tasmania, and his baby sister Ann, adopted by a Launceston couple, was taken to England. About 1836 Peter accompanied his father to Port Fairy, Port Phillip District, helping him in whaling and squatting pursuits until 1841 when Nicholas moved to Geelong and returned to the building trade. In 1850 Peter, now in partnership with his father, went to England to bring back his sister and returned with a wife Elizabeth, née Begley, whom he had married on 26 September at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Grantham, Lincolnshire. In 1854 he established his home at Ceres in the Barrabool Hills where he and his father opened a sandstone quarry.

Peter became a member of the Ceres Roads Board and a justice of the peace. With his eldest son John Nicholas he opened a limestone deposit at Waurn Ponds and in 1888 purchased 1200 acres (486 ha) at Batesford, seeking to exploit the limestone deposit there, with clay from the flood plains of the Moorabool River, for the manufacture of Portland cement. He registered the Australian Portland Cement Co. Ltd in 1889 with Geelong and Melbourne builders as shareholders; Richard Taylor, an English-trained cementmaker, was appointed company secretary and a works was established at Fyansford.

The technology employed was based on six shaft kilns flued to a common stack; it was labour intensive, expensive and difficult to adapt to the local raw materials. Operation was spasmodic and, following reduced prices for imported cement, unprofitable. The company was liquidated in 1895, but McCann, indefatigable, immediately set up another company and after a second liquidation in 1904 next year formed the Australian Portland Cement Co. Pty Ltd. At his death on 19 June 1908 at Ceres he left an estate valued for probate at £16,166 and a viable company.

Wesley was born on 21 October 1874 at Ceres, the sixteenth and last child. Educated at Ceres State School and Geelong College, he joined Australian Portland Cement straight from school and became secretary-manager in 1905, remaining in this position when a further restructuring of the company in 1911 gave control to a group of investors led by T. J. Noske. Further changes saw the company floated on the stock exchange in 1925 as Australian Cement Ltd. In 1928, acting for several leading cement companies, it bought out the Tasmanian-based National Portland Cement; the following year, after an amalgamation with Kandos Cement Co. Ltd, New South Wales, a new parent company, Australian Portland Cement Co. Pty Ltd, was registered. McCann was chairman, and also general manager (managing director from 1946) of Australian Cement Ltd until shortly before his death.

'W.B.', like his father, was determined to persevere with a struggling organization. He supervised modernization of the plant, including installation of the company's first rotary kiln in 1912 and of a second, using the superior 'wet' process, in 1914. Horse-drawn transport of raw materials gave way to an aerial ropeway in 1912 and to a company railway in 1928. McCann continued his expansion and upgradings until in 1961 plant capacity stood at 500,000 tons a year compared with an output of 2000 tons in 1905.

McCann's other activities displayed his vitality. With interests in the pastoral and farming industries he was a councillor and a president of the Shire of Corio, president of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures, a director of the Chamber of Manufactures Insurance Co. and a council-member of the Building Industry Congress (president, 1933). He served the Cement and Concrete Association as councillor and president, was a councillor of the Gordon Institute of Technology, and belonged to the Geelong and Melbourne Rotary clubs and the Barwon Heads Golf Club.

McCann died on 20 January 1961 at Geelong and was cremated. His wife Zeta, née Manchester, whom he had married at Coburg, Melbourne, on 5 July 1905 with Methodist forms, predeceased him by a few weeks. He was survived by two daughters and a son.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. McCann, History of Descendants of Peter McCann Who Landed in Australia in 1799 (priv print, copy in State Library of Victoria)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Land and Transport, 1 (Sept 1917), no 5, p 16
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Journal, 6, 1934, p 412
  • Age (Melbourne), 28 Sept 1946
  • Geelong Advertiser, 24 Jan 1961
  • W. B. McCann, History of Australian Cement Ltd (1927, Australian and Kandos Cement Holdings, South Melbourne, archives)
  • VPRS 932, file 2376/1,18 3046/1,13,14 3936/1,4,13,17 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Philip McKay, 'McCann, Peter (1828–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 July 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

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