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William McCulloch (1832–1909)

by Samuel Clyde McCulloch

This article was published:

William McCulloch (1832-1909), businessman, pastoralist and politician, was born on 22 October 1832 in Wigtonshire, Scotland, eldest son of Samuel McCulloch, laird of Chippermore, and his wife Helen, née McWhinnie. In 1852 he migrated to Victoria to try his luck at the Mount Alexander goldfields. He soon turned to store-keeping and later travelled for McEwan & Co., one of the largest importers in Melbourne. The slow growth of railways prompted him to become a carrier and forwarding agent and to found the firm which became the largest of its kind in Australia. In 1860 he went to Europe and in 1861 married Catherine Vance Agnew, younger daughter of Colin Christison of Barglass, Scotland.

McCulloch returned to Victoria and opened a carrying business at Woodend but soon moved the headquarters of the McCulloch Carrying Co. to Melbourne. Within fifteen years the company had twenty branch offices throughout Victoria, Riverina and South Australia, owned five Murray riverboats and was agent for about ten more and negotiated contracts with graziers on the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Darling Rivers. The Riverina trade was funnelled into Echuca, the company's biggest branch office, to be forwarded by rail to Melbourne. McCulloch was also a founder and director of the Moama-Deniliquin railway, opened in 1876. Railways later threatened to undermine his business and he relinquished leadership of the company in 1886. His younger brother James helped to direct the company until it merged with (F. A.) Wright, Heaton & Co. in 1898.

From 1870 William successively owned three properties close to Melbourne and invested heavily in stud cattle, sheep and horses imported from Europe. He specialized in Clydesdale horses, and his foundation stock of Shorthorns consisted of a dozen cows from the best herds in England. Later purchases were Pink 11th, one of whose calves brought 590 guineas, the bull Rapid bought from Lady Pigot for 1000 guineas in England, and Grand Duchess of Oxford bought for 2100 guineas in 1878. That year McCulloch spent £30,000 in England on prize and blood stock for seventeen animals. He claimed to have spent fully two years in 'a critical examination of the leading herds, and in attending every Shorthorn sale of importance'. In the 1880s he became interested in sheep and acquired Mertoun Park, a property near Colac. In 1886 he bought Warbreccan, 63,000 acres (25,495 ha) near Deniliquin, and in 1889 Woodlands, nearly 56,000 acres (22,662 ha) near Ararat and 'one of the most imposing country homes in Victoria', built in 1869 by John Wilson. A prominent supporter of coursing, he won the Victorian Waterloo Cup in 1874 with Royal Water. Ten years later he owned Monsoon, the runner-up, and Cumloden which won many matches. A great patron of the turf, he imported the best strains of English blood, amongst them Caiman and Pilgrim's Progress, sire of the Caulfield Cup winner, Lieutenant Bill, in 1902.

McCulloch represented Lonsdale Ward in the Melbourne City Council in 1872-76. Though pressed to accept the office of mayor, he declined since he wanted to visit Europe for health and business reasons. In 1880-1903 he represented Eastern (Gippsland) Province in the Legislative Council. He made few speeches but when debating argued quietly, briefly and yet diplomatically. He spoke his mind, was not afraid to make clear and positive recommendations and was especially knowledgeable about sheep, cattle, rabbits, railways, horse-racing, betting and women's suffrage. He was pro-Federation. A moderate in most issues, he was willing to listen cautiously to all sides but adamant when sure of his ground. In 1890 he was a prominent founder of the Pastoralists' Union in Victoria.

In 1895 McCulloch was appointed minister of defence in George Turner's first administration and as a cabinet member spoke more often, shepherding his share of bills through the chamber. When the Boer war broke out he organized and dispatched the first Victorian contingent. His loyal enthusiasm overrode all opposition. His transport work so impressed the governments of Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia that they transferred all the transit arrangements of their contingents to the Victorian government. In 1901 he chaired the celebrations committee for the Duke of York who opened the Federal parliament. He was minister of defence and health in the second Turner administration, and minister of public works and health in A. J. Peacock's cabinet until June 1902, when he was appointed to represent Victoria at Edward VII's coronation and to reorganize the office of the Victorian agent-general in London. In that year he was appointed C.M.G. He resigned from the Legislative Council in 1903 to run for the federal Senate but lost and retired to Woodlands, where he died on 4 April 1909. Predeceased by his wife in 1894, he was survived by three sons and three daughters.

Although delicate as a youth, McCulloch was tall and handsome, with very blue eyes and a well-clipped beard. Described in the press as accessible, genial and warm-hearted, he 'was always associated with integrity, honesty and probity' and 'charitable to a fault'. A staunch member of the Australian Church, he was one of the guarantors for its debt and Dr Strong preached at his funeral.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. Ellis, The Beef Shorthorn in Australia (Syd, 1932)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • I. Mudie, Riverboats (Melb, 1965)
  • S. Priestley, Echuca: A Centenary History (Brisb, 1965)
  • A. Morris, Rich River (Colac, 1970)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1880-1903
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Victoria), 1880-1903
  • Australasian, 12 Feb 1881
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Apr 1909
  • McCulloch Carrying Co. papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Samuel Clyde McCulloch, 'McCulloch, William (1832–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 October, 1832
Wigtownshire, Scotland


4 April, 1909 (aged 76)
Ararat, Victoria, Australia

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