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Samuel McIntosh (1867–1939)

by Neil Thomas

This article was published:

Samuel McIntosh (1867-1939), irrigation administrator and horticulturist, was born on 11 December 1867 at Findon, Adelaide, eldest child of Daniel McIntosh, labourer and later farmer, and his wife Mary, née Allison (d.1874). Sam's parents had migrated from Ayrshire, Scotland in 1866. Following education at St Clair, Woodville, Houghton and Telowie, he worked on his father's mixed farm at Tickera, upper Yorke Peninsula, helping to prepare the land for cultivation by scrub rolling and water carting. Here on his father's orchard he saw at first hand the benefits of irrigation from the Beetaloo reticulation system. He also joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Manchester Unity lodge at Tickera and became secretary and presiding officer.

In June 1891 McIntosh went to Renmark on the River Murray and found employment with Chaffey Brothers Ltd, at five shillings and sixpence per day, as a planter, grader and ganger, before being appointed head ganger in the planting section. Next year, offered the opportunity to gain experience in California with one of the Chaffeys' experts, he preferred to stay at Renmark, where he was foreman of the gang grading and irrigating the channels on the river blocks until mid-1898. During this time he learned much about management of his workers and assessing the fertility of the soil for cultivation.

To stem the flow of South Australians following William Lane to Paraguay, in March 1894 the first village settlements on the river were started. On the instruction of the Chaffeys, McIntosh assisted Lyrup settlers by planting the first vineyard and laying out irrigation channels. As chairman of directors of the Ral Ral Prospecting Co., he went to Western Australia in 1895 but soon returned to the river settlements. At the end of that year Chaffey Bros went into liquidation, owing huge amounts in wages to its employees and holding thousands of acres of unsold land. Appointed chairman of the employees' committee, McIntosh settled at Renmark and ran an orchard and ornamental tree nursery. He assisted with the report to the South Australian parliamentary sub-committee on Chaffey Bros' affairs. As a consequence, the commissioner of crown lands made McIntosh expert for village settlements, at an annual salary of £200; his role was to advise and instruct settlers in better horticultural methods, in the hope that their settlements could become self-sufficient, while keeping the government informed of their progress and problems.

On 10 September 1896 at Kadina, Yorke Peninsula, Samuel married with Congregational forms Constance Effie Taylor. They went to live at Overland Corner on the Murray, where McIntosh established the earliest experimental river irrigation plot in the colony. He was also appointed assistant inspector of fisheries and had the use of the first motor launch on the river. Several years later he recommended the establishment of a floating fish hatchery, but the radical concept was not followed through. McIntosh gained the confidence of the village settlers, his diplomacy with his government employers enabling many local problems to be solved. His reports helped a South Australian royal commission (1899-1900) to wind up six unsuccessful village settlements, with bad debts written off and village lands being let under perpetual lease.

In December 1900 McIntosh moved his family to Waikerie, where he started a river irrigation experimental orchard and vineyard. His position was renamed village settlement inspector; this was reduced in scope in 1903 when the Markaranka Irrigation Co. offered him the part-time position of general manager and he moved to North West Bend. He was also appointed manager of Holder settlement and irrigation administrator for the New Era Fruitgrowing Co.

McIntosh resigned his various appointments in 1906 to become chairman of government irrigation boards and manager of the Murray Bridge experimental farm, in addition to river fisheries and village settlements. In January 1910 he inaugurated the Government Irrigation Department in South Australia, becoming officer-in-charge of irrigation and reclamation works the following July, at a salary of £450 per year; in March 1911 he was appointed director of irrigation. Next month he left for Europe and North America on behalf of the South Australian government, primarily to observe irrigation practices. He brought back valuable information to be assessed for suitability for local irrigation needs.

During and after World War I McIntosh was involved in the State government's plans to establish returned soldiers on blocks along the Murray, using his knowledge of river conditions, soil and suitable crop types. In 1923 a three-man irrigation commission replaced him; McIntosh was one of its members but resigned in October 1926. At the age of 58 he established a fruit block at Berri on his own property, Moy, with his son Douglas.

With all his official appointments, McIntosh still managed to find time to become involved in local organizations. A member of the Morgan District Council and the first Renmark Literary and Debating Society and Model Parliament, he founded the Murray Bridge Fathers' Association and Agricultural Bureau and the Murray River Progress Association. In 1901 he had been appointed a justice of the peace. He also served as chieftain of the Murray Bridge Caledonian Society; his sporting interests included the Murray Bridge and South Australian rowing clubs.

Detailed diaries that McIntosh kept from about 1895 to 1935 recorded his visits to river settlements, the work he oversaw there, his plans for improvements, meetings attended, notes regarding equipment used and crops planted and his overseas trip in 1911. They revealed the dedication with which he undertook all his projects, his official appointments and associated activities. He also wrote articles, including 'Lucern cultivation and management' (Bulletin of the Department of Agriculture, 1910) and 'Irrigation in South Australia' (Journal of Agriculture of South Australia, 1914).

Predeceased by two sons, McIntosh died on 21 February 1939 at Berri and was buried with Anglican rites; the attendance at the funeral was the largest in the district to that time. His wife and their three daughters and one son survived him. There were many tributes in the local newspaper to his personality, ability and outstanding contribution to the establishment of irrigation work along the Murray.

Select Bibliography

  • H. J. Finnis, Village Settlements on the River Murray (Adel, 1959)
  • A. Jones, Lyrup Village (Lyrup, SA, 1994)
  • Berri Jubilee Historical Committee, River Reflections (Berri, SA, 1986)
  • Riverlander, no 377, Aug 1982, p 5
  • Sunraysia Daily, 18 Oct 1920, p 1
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 22 Feb 1939, p 24
  • Murray Pioneer, 23 Feb 1939, p 11
  • McIntosh papers (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

Neil Thomas, 'McIntosh, Samuel (1867–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 December, 1867
Findon, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


21 February, 1939 (aged 71)
Berri, South Australia, Australia

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