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George McCulloch (1848–1907)

by Bruce Pennay

This article was published:

George McCulloch (1848-1907), station manager, was born on 22 April 1848 in Glasgow, Scotland, son of James McCulloch, contractor. Educated at High School and at the Andersonian University, Glasgow, he followed pastoral pursuits in Mexico and elsewhere with little success before arriving at Sydney in the 1870s. His uncle, James McCulloch, appointed him manager of McCulloch, Sellar & Co.'s Mount Gipps station, near Broken Hill, with an eighth share of the profits; it was a well-developed property of 540,000 acres (218,533 ha) with 71,000 sheep in 1877. In 1895 a report on the station criticized McCulloch's management but by then years of low rainfall had made the earlier optimism about country west of the Darling seem extravagant.

When Charles Rasp pegged a claim at Broken Hill in September 1883, McCulloch advised the formation of a syndicate and extension of the claim. Influenced by William Jamieson, a government surveyor who bought into the venture, McCulloch retained his share through tiresome months of uncertainty as the claim was explored. He once played euchre with a visiting Englishman to determine the price of a fourteenth share. McCulloch lost, parted with the share at £120 but later bought an equivalent one for £90. He dominated the small syndicate of station employees and adhered to the formalities of the mining regulations. As the syndicate widened he organized it into the Broken Hill Mining Co. and chose a manager. Favourable assay reports led to the need of more capital and the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd was floated in August 1885. McCulloch became a provisional director and was chairman of the local committee in 1886-88. In 1887 he went to London to float the British B.H.P. Co. with William Knox and again in 1890-91. He was a director of the B.H.P. Co. Ltd on the local, Melbourne and London boards, and of other mining companies including those associated with B.H.P. and the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Shrewd with shares, he won great wealth from the Western Australian goldfields. In 1892 he became chairman of directors of the B.H.P. Co. Ltd and was the uncompromising president of the Barrier Ranges Mining Association during the eighteen-week strike. When it ended he assured shareholders that they had all striven for the principles of 'freedom of contract and the right to manage the mine as we please, irrespective of unions and union agitators'. In 1893 McCulloch returned to London and on 11 May at the Strand Register Office married Mary Agnes Mayger, widowed daughter of William Smith, miner.

Strongwilled and straightforward, even blunt, McCulloch was large in build and had delighted in feats of strength and practical jokes when at Mount Gipps. At Broken Hill he had donated works to the Art Gallery and money to the hospital. In London he gathered a fine collection of pictures and sculpture which he displayed in four salons. He restricted himself to contemporary works and was especially attracted by the work of Millais. He also had a hall of sculptures including some by Rodin, but perhaps his art selection revealed prudent investment as much as taste. After a long illness he died at his home, 184 Queen's Gate, London, on 12 December 1907. He was survived by his wife to whom he left over £436,000. By his will of 5 January 1904 he directed that if she predeceased him the estate was to pass to her son Alexander McCulloch but should he die without issue it was to revert to the Crown for charitable, educational and national purposes.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Bridges, From Silver to Steel (Melb, 1920)
  • G. Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968)
  • B. Hardy, West of the Darling (Melb, 1969)
  • BHP Recreation Review, 16 Dec 1925
  • Barrier Miner, 14 Dec 1907
  • BHP Co. reports, and chairman's address 25 Jan 1893 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Broken Hill Mining Co. minute books (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bruce Pennay, 'McCulloch, George (1848–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 June 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

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