Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles McLachlan (1795–1855)

by David S. Macmillan and J. R. Morris

This article was published:

Charles McLachlan (1795?-1855), businessman, was born in Scotland and as a young man went to the West Indies, where he was employed as a plantation manager or a commercial agent by the Glasgow firm of Ewing & Reid. By 1822 he had returned to Scotland and obtained a position in the head office at Leith of the Australian Co., newly founded by a group of merchants and shipowners in Edinburgh and Leith with a view to organizing the first regular shipping service between Britain and the Australian colonies.

After the death of John Wyld, the company's principal agent in Australia, McLachlan was sent to Hobart Town to take charge. He arrived in October 1824 and, despite fierce competition in the shipping and importing business and a lack of exportable produce which would sell in Britain, he was able to carry on the company's affairs with some success until the depression of the late 1820s forced the board in Leith to wind up operations and dissolve the company in 1831-32. Under McLachlan the company brought out many hundreds of Scottish settlers, including many artisans. A prominent figure in the Hobart mercantile circle, McLachlan was appointed a justice of the peace in 1828 and was a promoter of the Hobart Exchange (1828) and of the Chamber of Commerce (1829). He became a director of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land in 1828 and was a leading member of the group which formed the Van Diemen's Land Assurance Co. in 1831-32. He acted as trustee and agent for merchants such as Walter Bethune and John Lord. In 1827 he joined in protests against Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's Press Licensing Act, and in 1828 he opposed the new import duties, though he was less critical of the administration than other merchants. In 1832 he was appointed to the Legislative Council and later served on several boards of inquiry into the colony's monetary problems. Henry Savery described him as 'a little undersized man, of very repelling features, a short, stout gentleman … whose temper was seldom ruffled, or his equanimity disturbed'.

McLachlan signed the petition for a Presbyterian minister in 1825 and later became treasurer of St Andrew's Church; he helped to found the St Andrew's Club, a welfare society, in 1826, the Mechanics' Institution in 1827 and the Agricultural and Commercial Association in 1829. Between 1825 and 1841 he obtained land grants totalling 3450 acres (1396 ha) on the Blackman's River in the Salt Pan Plains, a whaling station at Southport, and several town allotments in Hobart. In the late 1830s he sent sheep to the Port Phillip District, had some interest in the Great Lake Co. and in 1840 bought land at Geelong. In the 1840s he was managing director of the Derwent Bank and the Commercial Bank of Tasmania, both of which he had helped to found in 1827-29. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1832 until 1842 when he left for England. After his return, in October 1847 he was chairman of the Hobart meeting which petitioned the British government to revoke the order for the removal of Sydney convicts to Van Diemen's Land. In 1842-46 and 1848-52 he lived in some style in Eaton Place, London, where he acted as unofficial agent for Van Diemen's Land. At Sydney in May 1829 he had married Isabella Dick, daughter of a Glasgow merchant; they had five daughters and three sons. He died in Melbourne on 16 April 1855. His widow died at Brighton, England, on 7 December 1882, aged 76.

McLachlan was one of the colony's leading businessmen, and it is doubtful if that premature Scottish experiment, the Australian Co. of Edinburgh and Leith, could have maintained its operations so long without his enterprising management in the colonies.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Savery, The Hermit in Van Diemen's Land, eds C. H. Hadgraft and M. Roe (Brisb, 1964)
  • correspondence file under C. McLachlan (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • manuscript catalogue under C. McLachlan (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

David S. Macmillan and J. R. Morris, 'McLachlan, Charles (1795–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 July 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]




16 April, 1855 (aged ~ 60)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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