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William McLellan (1831–1906)

by Stuart Macintyre

This article was published:

William McLellan (1831-1906), mining agent and politician, was born on 12 August 1831 in Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland, son of Peter McLellan and his wife Margaret, née Sim. Educated at local schools, he worked as a carpenter before migrating to Victoria. He arrived in Melbourne on 11 November 1850. Next year he started prospecting for gold which took him to many fields in New South Wales and Victoria. He moved to Ararat in 1857 when the Canton lead was discovered, and was elected a member of the local Mining Board.

In 1859 Ararat was created a two-member constituency of the Legislative Assembly and McLellan was elected a representative in October. He was then a popular radical specially interested in unlocking the land. The election at Ararat attracted five candidates and caused some heat; McLellan's three opponents survived a show of hands but after declaration of the poll they were alleged to have 'found it discreet to make themselves scarce during the afternoon'. McLellan himself was described as being a 'mild mannered man as ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat'. Egalitarian radicalism characterized his attitude in his first decade in the Legislative Assembly. As a member of the Land Convention he also championed manhood suffrage in his successful campaign for re-election in 1861. He created a stir in 1863 when he formally moved that steps be taken 'to insure the representatives of the people against the undue influence exercised by bankers, squatters, agents of secret and corrupt associations and others'. Throughout his career he assiduously cultivated his constituency and his most notable achievements were the establishment of the Mental Hospital in Ararat and the decision to route the Melbourne-Adelaide railway through Ararat rather than Hamilton.

McLellan continued to represent Ararat until it became a single-member constituency in 1877. Like other politicians associated with mining and finance, his initial democratic antagonism to the squatters moderated. He held office in J. A. MacPherson's ministry as commissioner of public works from January and vice-president of the Board of Land and Works from February to April 1870, and under C. G. Duffy from June 1871 to June 1872 and Sir James McCulloch from October 1875 to May 1877 as minister of mines. He had accumulated some wealth as a director of mining companies and his politics became increasingly dexterous even toward squatters. Although he retained the declamatory and ebullient style that earned him the ironical sobriquet of the 'dove of Ararat', his increasingly rare declarations of radical sentiment had little substance. After at least three unsuccessful contests he was again elected for Ararat in February 1883. He served on over twenty select committees and was chairman of committees in 1889-92. His attitude in 1886 may be inferred from his advice to parliamentary dissidents: 'I don't object to the Opposition coming into power, but I ask them to have patience, and to bide their right time for taking the reins, when who knows but that I may be sitting behind them … and supporting them in a right cause'.

After 1892 McLellan crossed the floor several times but was not given a portfolio, though in 1897-98 he served as a member of the royal commission on old age pensions. He was defeated in the 1897 election by Richard Toutcher, a member of the Australian Natives Association. McLellan died of heart failure on 12 April 1906, survived by his wife Mary Eliza, née Moodie; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • L. L. Banfield, Like the Ark: The Story of Ararat (Melb, 1955)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1886, 968
  • J. E. Jenkins, ‘Early Ararat’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 8 (1920-21)
  • Ararat Advertiser, 23 Aug 1859, 23 July 1861, 13 Apr 1906
  • S. M. Ingham, Some Aspects of Victorian Liberalism 1880-1900 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1950)
  • M. G. Finlayson, Victorian Politics 1889-94 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1964).

Citation details

Stuart Macintyre, 'McLellan, William (1831–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 13 April 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]


12 August, 1831
Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland


12 April, 1906 (aged 74)
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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