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Michael Metcalfe (1813–1890)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

Michael Metcalfe (1813-1890), merchant and customs agent, was born on 4 October 1813 at Tranby, Yorkshire, England, son of Michael Metcalfe, shipowner, and his wife Ann, née Bell. Educated for commerce, he went to sea and by 1831 was working at St Katherine Docks, London. In July 1837 he arrived in the Achilles at Sydney, where he became a customs agent and later a partner of James Powell. About 1857 he formed Michael Metcalfe & Co., shipping and insurance agents, and in 1862 was manager of Metcalfe's Marine Assurance Co. In 1864 he took over the shipping agency of his brother John Bell, and in 1869 was joined by Joseph Henry Storey as partner. In 1839 Metcalfe had helped to form the Australasian Steam Navigation Co., being auditor and later a director till 1881.

In 1853 as a provisional director of the Sydney Dry Dock Co. Metcalfe gave evidence to the parliamentary select committee on its operations. In 1858 he promoted the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co. of which he was a major shareholder and in 1861-90 its chairman. He was a director of the Clarence and Richmond River Steam Navigation Co. and in 1863-90 of the Illawarra Steam Navigation Co. He helped to establish the Sydney Exchange Co. and was auditor and a director. In 1862-90 he was a director and after 1874 chairman of the Australian Gaslight Co. A trustee and director of several building societies, he served on the committee of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, the first committee of the Union Club and as treasurer of the Australian Library.

An active High Church Anglican, Metcalfe in 1838 became a foundation churchwarden of Christ Church St Laurence, patron and trustee of its schools and long a parochial nominator. He joined the committees of the Church of England Lay Association and the Australian Board of Missions (1850), and was for years treasurer of the Melanesian Mission. As a member of the Diocesan Committee, he gave to the building fund of St Andrew's Cathedral and in 1868 belonged to its first chapter. He helped to endow the dioceses of Grafton-Armidale in 1867 and Bathurst in 1869; at St Paul's College, University of Sydney, he was bursar and a fellow in 1860-85. In 1866-89 he represented the college on the synod of the Diocese of Sydney. He was sometime a committee member of the Benevolent Society and the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children and a director of Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary. In 1875 he was appointed by Parkes to the public charities commission. Metcalfe died of heart failure on 27 October 1890, leaving an estate of £24,982 to his wife Agnes Georgianna, née Robinson, whom he had married in 1845 at Christ Church, and to four sons and four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2, 3rd ed (Syd, 1889)
  • L. M. Allen, A History of Christ Church S. Laurence Sydney (Syd, 1940)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Oct 1890
  • Votes and Proceedings, Synod, 1866-90 (Sydney Diocesan Registry)
  • manuscript catalogue under M. Metcalfe (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Metcalfe, Michael (1813–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 May 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]


4 October, 1813
Tranby, Yorkshire, England


27 October, 1890 (aged 77)
New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.