Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William McGarvie (1810–1841)

by J. V. Byrnes

This article was published:

William McGarvie (1810-1841), journalist, bookseller and pastoralist, was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He was educated on classical lines, and worked for a brief period on the Glasgow Herald before following his brother John to New South Wales. He arrived in the Comet in 1828 and immediately took charge of the 'Australian Stationery Warehouse' which Robert Howe ran in conjunction with the Sydney Gazette. This shop in Lower George Street also had a circulating library; McGarvie's catalogue of its books was printed by the Gazette in 1829 and is today an important social document.

In 1831, with two other Gazette employees, Frederick Stokes and Alfred Ward Stephens, he imported a printing press and they began publication of the Sydney Herald. McGarvie is credited with naming the paper after the Glasgow Herald. He stated its policy in the first issue, 18 April 1831: the ideals were 'wholesome restraint' and 'reasoning founded on truth' as far as politics were concerned. Other guiding principles were loyalty to Britain, the dissemination of knowledge, the interests of literature and the advancement of education. In his first editorial McGarvie also paid a tribute to the native-born Australians and urged their advancement by the government. McGarvie edited the Herald for only half a dozen issues. He then sold his share to Stephens and Stokes and returned to Scotland. He came back again almost immediately in 1832, but in a storm was drenched in his cabin in the Minerva. His health had never been robust and he now suffered permanent damage to his lungs.

In Sydney he resumed bookselling at the Australian Warehouse, then under the proprietorship of Ann Howe, and issued another catalogue of its books in 1833. He then acquired a land grant of 320 acres (130 ha) at Port Macquarie to which he added another 100 acres (40 ha) by purchase. He named this estate Mount Pleasant, and after 1835 devoted most of his time to it. In 1841, after having been forced to spend six nights in the bush in wet weather, he contracted a severe cold and returned to Sydney. His health deteriorated quickly and he died in Sydney on 1 April 1841, aged 31, survived by his wife, Isabella, and a three-weeks-old son. His estate was valued at £3000. His widow later married Dr Frederick Mackellar, grandfather of the poet Dorothea Mackellar.

Select Bibliography

  • A Century of Journalism: The Sydney Morning Herald, 1831-1931 (Syd, 1931)
  • McGarvie papers (State Library of New South Wales and Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney).

Citation details

J. V. Byrnes, 'McGarvie, William (1810–1841)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


1 April, 1841 (aged ~ 31)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.