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Colin Dunlop Wilson Rankin (1869–1940)

by Raymond L. Whitmore

This article was published:

Colin Dunlop Wilson Rankin (1869-1940), soldier, politician, cane farmer and company director, was born on 20 January 1869 at Galston, Ayrshire, Scotland, second son of William Rankin, colliery manager, and his wife Jane, née Anderson. Educated at Galston Public School and Kilmarnock Academy, Colin accompanied his family to Queensland when his father became manager of Queensland Collieries Co. Ltd at Howard, near Maryborough, in 1884. Colin joined its staff and from 1886 the Queensland Defence Force. By 1890 he was assistant company manager, grew sugar at Tigh-na-Bienne on the Isis north of Howard, and became a clerk and valuator with the Isis Divisional Board (1890-99).

A major when the South African War broke out, Rankin volunteered for service and on 13 January 1900 sailed with the Second Queensland Contingent. He was appointed second-in-command of the First Australian Regiment of Mounted Infantry and saw action at Diamond Hill, Riet Vlei and elsewhere. Invalided to England, Rankin returned to Queensland in March 1901. In 1903 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the Wide Bay Infantry Regiment, assuming command in 1906.

He had been chairman of the Howard Shire Council since its formation in 1903, and in 1905 successfully contested the seat of Burrum in the Legislative Assembly after unsuccessful attempts to gain it in 1899 and 1904. He married Annabelle Davidson Thomson on 5 September 1906 at Maryborough and settled on his plantation.

An eloquent man with a fine physique and strong personality, Rankin promoted rural interests during his thirteen years in parliament. He became a council-member of the Australian Sugar Producers' Union. His membership of the Farmers' Parliamentary Union (Country Liberal Party from 1913), however, exacerbated disunity among government ranks. After unsuccessfully challenging Denham's leadership, Rankin was secretary for railways briefly in 1915, then became deputy leader of the Liberal Opposition when Labor won the May election.

During World War I Rankin served briefly in 1915 with the Australian Imperial Force in Egypt before appointment to command the 11th Brigade in the newly formed 3rd Division, as temporary brigadier general from 1 May 1916. On Salisbury Plain in England, he was dismissed by Major General (Sir John) Monash as incapable, returned home in November, and retired with the honorary rank of colonel in February 1917. He failed to hold Burrum in the 1918 election. Next year when his brother William Charles died he succeeded him as general manager of Queensland Collieries Co. Ltd and moved to the company's house, Brooklyn, at Howard.

As managing director in 1924-40, Rankin continued a tradition of paternal despotism. He had found the company in poor shape with a falling output and inadequate coal reserves; charges have also been made of 'intense exploitation, sub-standard conditions and hard-fistedness'. He courageously took out new leases in the Burrum district and opened new mines which helped the company to weather the Depression of the 1930s. Rankin died in a private hospital in Brisbane on 2 November 1940, survived by his wife and two daughters, and was buried with Anglican rites in Howard cemetery. His daughter (Dame) Annabelle became the first woman to enter the Federal parliament from Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • W. J. E. Watson, 100 Years in Coal (Maryborough, 1963)
  • E. Ross, A History of the Miners' Federation of Australia (Syd, 1970)
  • D. J. Murphy, T. J. Ryan (Brisb, 1975)
  • W. Browne, A Woman of Distinction (Brisb, 1981)
  • R. L. Whitmore, Coal in Queensland (Brisb, 1985)
  • P. Thomas, The Coalminers of Queensland, vol 1 (Ipswich, 1986)
  • Queensland Government Mining Journal, 15 Nov 1940, p 284
  • Queensland Times (Ipswich), 3 Sept 1907, 18 Feb 1910
  • Queenslander, 15 Sept 1906, 27 Dec 1913, 20 Aug 1915, 17 May, 13 Dec 1919
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 3 Nov 1940
  • biography newsclipping folder (State Library of Queensland)
  • private information.

Citation details

Raymond L. Whitmore, 'Rankin, Colin Dunlop Wilson (1869–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 January, 1869
Galston, Ayrshire, Scotland


2 November, 1940 (aged 71)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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