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Robert McDougall (1813–1887)

by G. R. Quaife

This article was published:

Robert McDougall (1813-1887), cattle breeder and agriculturist, was born on 16 April 1813 at Fortingall, Perthshire, Scotland, son of Alexander McDougall, sheep farmer, and his wife Grace, née Stewart. Attracted by outdoor life, he fished and hunted in the western isles in 1830 and from 1836 spent three years in Canada trapping beaver. He returned to Scotland but soon left for Port Phillip, where he arrived in November 1841. He was chosen by Thomas Learmonth to manage his Western District property. In the next years McDougall explored the lower Loddon and middle reaches of the Murray Rivers. In 1848 he rented land, bought stock and began to breed Shorthorn cattle, pigs and horses.

In the early 1850s he improved his Shorthorn herd by imports from Tasmania and rented property near Essendon to accommodate his growing activities. In November 1856 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for West Bourke but retired in August 1857. In 1858 a committee of leading breeders, including Niel Black, J. Ware and McDougall, was formed to compile and edit a herd book for the colony. A dispute over the status of locally bred stud, inflamed by personal animosities, ruined the plan and McDougall was left to edit those pedigrees made available. In 1859 he went to England to buy stud bulls and in the 1860s expanded his stud and refined his breeding techniques. An excellent showman and constant prize-winner, he was active in the Port Phillip Farming Society, a trustee of the National Agricultural Society and strongly supported the creation of a board of agriculture.

In 1870 McDougall bought Arundel farm at Keilor and went to England where he bought two prize Shorthorn bulls of the light-coloured Booth type which he was determined to propagate in the colony at the expense of the Bates strain favoured by his rival, Niel Black. His development of a fine herd contributed to the later expansion of the beef cattle industry but his uncompromising approach restricted his effect. In public controversy he was apt 'to urge with more force of language than those opposed to him liked'. Forthright and radical on contemporary issues, he supported democratic political reform, the abolition of state aid to religion and the development of secular education. He had little time for squatters, insisting that they pay a fair price for their land and learn a few elements of their trade. McDougall was respected but not popular. Stern and severe, he spiced his conversation and public utterances with scriptural references and moral injunctions. His scruples made him troublesome in those organizations which he joined and the inflexible position he adopted on his own matters of principle often appeared to opponents as personal malice. He prided himself on his abhorrence of 'toadyism, trickery and tippling', and lawyers. He was a fine Gaelic scholar and a relentless Presbyterian.

In 1853 at Melbourne McDougall had married Margaret Rankin (1834-1913) of Hobart; they had one son and five daughters. After he died at Moonee Ponds on 25 June 1887, his estates Arundel and Warlaby were sold and his prize herds dispersed. They realized £40,000.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. Ellis, The Beef Shorthorn in Australia (Syd, 1932)
  • H. H. Peck, Memoirs of a Stockman (Melb, 1942)
  • M. L. Kiddle, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • Age (Melbourne), 28 June 1887
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 June 1887.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. R. Quaife, 'McDougall, Robert (1813–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 May 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]


16 April, 1813
Fortingall, Perthshire, Scotland


25 June, 1887 (aged 74)
Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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