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McGaw, Andrew Kidd (1873–1956)

by Jim Kitay

This article was published:

Andrew Kidd McGaw (1873-1956), company agent and manager, was born on 5 October 1873 at Foveran, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of John McGaw, a dentist turned evangelist with the Christian Brethren Church, and his wife Margaret, née Findlay. McGaw was educated at Gordon's College, Aberdeen. He became a chartered surveyor and worked on estates in Scotland and England. In 1902 he was appointed chief agent and manager of the Van Diemen's Land Co. and associated companies, taking up his duties in Burnie on 1 February 1903. On 5 March 1902 he married Elsie Pringle Wotton at Ludlow, Shropshire, England.

'Probably the most unfortunate of all capitalist ventures in early Australia', the V.D.L. Co. through poor selection of land, mismanagement, and bad luck (the rich Mount Bischoff tin-mine was later discovered just outside its boundaries) had been a continual drain on shareholders' funds. However, a degree of prosperity was attained towards the end of the nineteenth century. Under McGaw, a diligent manager who paid close attention to detail, the company's agricultural interests were extended and developed, and land sales (a major source of income) placed on a regular basis. Much of the original grant was gradually sold, farmland cleared, orchards created, and activity concentrated on stock and crops. Some of the company's land was farmed by tenants, while other small properties had been purchased from the company on mortgage. A sawmill was erected at Burnie in 1905 to process company timber and the Burnie Brick & Timber Co. was established as a subsidiary in 1907, with a brickworks at Cooee.

McGaw's greatest contribution to the development of Burnie and north-west Tasmania may have been his work for the Marine Board of Burnie of which he became a warden in 1907, the year after a long, acrimonious legal battle between the board and the company had been settled. He was elected master warden in 1910, defeated in 1914, re-elected in 1924 and held the position until 1945, a record period. McGaw was a tireless champion of the development of Burnie as a port. He guided the Marine Board, initiated construction and expansion including a pier and breakwater, and attracted shipping. McGaw Pier was named in his honour in 1930. He encouraged the establishment of a pulp and paper industry and is credited with playing 'the greatest part of any individual' in the emergence of Burnie as an industrial centre.

McGaw was very active in business and civic organizations. He was the first president of the Agricultural Bureau of Tasmania, chairman of the Tasmanian Timber Organization and the Northwestern Sawmilling Association, a member of the Tasmanian committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and he chaired a government board of inquiry into the operations of the Agricultural Bank of Tasmania in 1935. President and later patron of the Burnie Agricultural Show for many years, he was an elder in the Christian Brethren Church and chairman of the Bible Society and the Burnie Benevolent Society (which was very active during the Depression). He was appointed C.M.G. in 1937.

McGaw retired on 31 March 1947 in failing health. He was appointed local director of the V.D.L. Co., but he soon resigned because of illness. He moved to Mont Albert, Melbourne, and after his departure the company gradually sold off its property and closed its offices. It retained its Woolnorth estate in the north-western corner of Tasmania.

McGaw was an energetic, friendly man, but not gregarious. He was respected for his honesty and fairness, though he was never quick to forgive those who had failed him. Tall, slender and prematurely grey, he dressed fastidiously. His main recreation was running a small farm at Ridgley. McGaw died on 11 January 1956 in Melbourne and was buried in Box Hill cemetery. His wife, two daughters and a son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. G. Mercer, Burnie (Burnie, 1965)
  • P. G. Mercer, Gateway to Progress (Burnie, 1969)
  • H. J. W. Stokes, ‘The Van Diemen's Land Co.’, in Tasmanian Year Book 1971 (Hob, 1971)
  • Advocate (Burnie), 8 Feb 1949
  • Mercury (Hobart), 12 Jan 1956
  • Examiner (Launceston), 12 Jan 1956
  • records of the Van Diemen's Land Co. (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Jim Kitay, 'McGaw, Andrew Kidd (1873–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 May 2022.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022

Life Summary [details]


5 October, 1873
Foveran, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


11 January, 1956 (aged 82)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence