Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Boyd Dunlop Morehead (1843–1905)

This article was published:

Boyd Dunlop Morehead (1843-1905), pastoralist, businessman and politician, was born on 24 August 1843 at Sydney, son of Robert Archibald Alison Morehead and his wife Helen Buchanan, née Dunlop. Educated at Cape's school in Scotland for eighteen months and Sydney Grammar School, he matriculated at the University of Sydney in 1860 but left after two terms. He tried various gold and sapphire diggings and in 1862 as a clerk joined the Bank of New South Wales but was dismissed for insubordination in 1864. After acquiring pastoral experience on several stations he was manager of the Scottish Australian Investment Co.'s Bowen Downs in 1866-81, often acting as an inspector of the company's other stations. In 1870 a thousand cattle were stolen from Bowen Downs and driven to South Australia. Morehead went to Adelaide to recover them and trace the thieves who were later indicted in Queensland without success. With A. B. Buchanan in 1873 he founded B. D. Morehead & Co. which had two branches: a mercantile and trading business, and a stock and station agency. By 1877 he had thirteen stations in the Mitchell District.

In the Queensland Legislative Assembly Morehead represented Mitchell from September 1871 to December 1880 and Balonne from October 1883 to April 1896. In the Legislative Council he served as postmaster-general and ministerial representative from December 1880 to August 1883. Back in the Legislative Assembly he was colonial secretary from June to November 1888, and premier, chief secretary and colonial secretary from November 1888 to August 1890. From June 1896 to October 1905 he was again in the council. While holding office he was competent and decorous but without it seemed to scorn the townee politicians who did not share his advocacy for squatting, conservatism and self-help. Well read, he revelled in sarcastic quotations ranging from Cornewall Lewis's Government of Dependencies to Edward Gibbon's account of Mohammed's iron coffin suspended in mid-air. He called the Brisbane Courier 'a mendacious paper edited by a hireling', insisted on points of order and a proper quorum in the House and described the premier as 'the biggest show in the colony and might be seen in parliament every evening'. When taunted as a squatter he replied, 'Wasn't Nebuchadnezzar sent grazing for his sins'. Morehead's wit, vivacity and undaunted pluck won him the title of 'guerrilla debater'.

In 1879 when given no office under Thomas McIlwraith Morehead organized a subsection of seven young bloods to harass the premier by playing cards till midnight unless called to carry a division. In 1881 rumour had Morehead auctioning some 9000 acres (3642 ha) of country lands for £1 an acre (.4 ha). In 1882 a select committee of the assembly investigated the rumour. (Sir) Samuel Griffith claimed that the land was auctioned at 10s. an acre by Morehead Ltd for the 2½ per cent brokerage but refused to name his informants. Summoned by the committee Morehead claimed that 'it would not be consistent with my honour, nor with my dignity, to rebut charges against me and my firm', and declined to answer Griffith's unsubstantiated rumours.

Morehead was at his best defending the pioneers who developed the colony's prosperity and quoted 'God made the country, but the devil made the towns'. He admitted to employing Kanakas on his stations but 'thought it cowardice to say that white labor could be put down by black labor'. Yet his tender feelings were near the surface when trouble came to his friends and employees. In January 1881 he attended the Intercolonial Conference on massacres in the Pacific and seconded the motion by A. H. Palmer that the Queen 'cause such action to be taken as will prevent the recurrence of such outrages against life and property'. In 1889 Sir Henry Parkes visited Brisbane to put his Federation scheme to Queensland leaders but Morehead was 'ill in bed'. In 1896 he refused an offer to represent the colony as agent-general in London but in 1901 served on the royal commission on liquor laws.

Morehead suffered disaster in the 1893 crisis. He had been a director of the Queensland National Bank for some years and invested heavily in share stock which long remained valueless owing to calls on liabilities. Despite many visits to Britain his health continued to deteriorate. Predeceased by his first wife Annabella Campbell, née Ranken, whom he had married at Lockyersleigh, Goulburn, on 4 June 1873, he died from a cerebral haemorrhage on 30 October 1905 at a private hospital in Gregory Terrace, Brisbane. He was survived by his second wife Ethel, née Seymour, whom he had married at Brisbane on 3 April 1895, by seven daughters of his first marriage and by one daughter of the second. His estate outside Scotland was sworn for probate at £713.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1871-1904
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1882, 659
  • Queenslander, 4 Nov 1881, 8 Oct 1892
  • C. Verney, ‘Reminiscences’, Daily Mail (Brisbane), 31 Aug 1907
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • Bank of New South Wales Archives
  • CO 201/595, 610.

Citation details

'Morehead, Boyd Dunlop (1843–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 14 June 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