George McCulloch (mine owner)

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George McCulloch

George McCulloch (Glasgow 23 April 1848 – 12 December 1907 London) was a British businessman and art collector. He was the mastermind behind the formation of the Broken Hill Mining Company, a precursor of BHP Billiton.[1] He was the son of James McCulloch, a contractor, and Isabella Robertson, a farmer's daughter. George's father died of cholera in January 1849 when George was one year old[2] and he was brought up by his mother assisted by his uncle John Robertson, a farmer.

Early life and shipbuilding[edit]

George McCulloch, John Singer Sargent, 1901

As a young man, circa 1865, McCulloch travelled to Uruguay, South America where his older brothers John and Allan were stockmen. Aged 21 he returned to Glasgow and in 1869 formed a partnership with James Patterson, leasing a shipyard at Port Glasgow. McCulloch Patterson and Co, shipbuilders, built several vessels including the Isabel, Vale of Doon, Loch Dee, Vale of Nith, Firth of Clyde, Maitland, and the Loch Urr, but they made a small loss on most of these vessels, and the pair were eventually forced to file for bankruptcy in February 1871.[3][4]

Sheep farming in Australia[edit]

In May 1871 McCulloch sailed for Melbourne in Australia, where his cousin Sir James McCulloch was a prosperous merchant and politician.[5]

About 1875, his cousin gave him a job as Manager of the Mount Gipps Sheep Station in New South Wales.[6] The sheep station extended to approximately 400,000 acres of land leased from the government. George was also given a 2/16 share in the Mount Gipps Pastoral and Mineral Company by McCulloch Sellar and Co in which James McCulloch was a partner.[7]

The Broken Hill Mine[edit]

By chance, in 1883 one of the boundary riders, Charles Rasp, discovered mineral samples on the property and pegged out a claim. McCulloch immediately held a meeting with the station hands and it was agreed to form a Syndicate of Seven pegging out a further six blocks of mining leases which were amalgamated to form the privately owned 'Broken Hill Mining Company'. In 1885 silver was discovered, and in order to bring in more capital for the development of the mine, the original company was floated into the Broken Hill Proprietary Mining Company Ltd.[8]

Art collection[edit]

George McCulloch retired to the UK a rich man about 1891. He married his housekeeper, Mary Agnes Mayger, the widow of an employee at Mount Gipps, in 1893 and they went to live at 184 Queens Gate, London.[9]

Between 1893 and his death in 1907 George became an internationally known art collector and was a patron of the artist John Singer Sargent. At the time of his death he owned one of the finest collections of paintings by modern British artists in the world. He made it his rule not to acquire a picture unless it was painted in his own lifetime.[10]

He died in 1907, the year before his son Alexander McCulloch won a Silver Medal in the Single Sculls at the London Summer Olympic Regatta in 1908.

George's widow Agnes married the Scottish painter James Coutts Michie in 1908 and in 1909 the McCulloch Collection of Modern Art was exhibited at the Royal Academy Winter Exhibition at Burlington House.[11] The bulk of the collection was sold by auction in 1913, with many pictures being purchased by Lord Lever.

McCulloch's house at Queens Gate was used as a British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital during the Great War when it became known as the Michie Hospital.

For her war work McCulloch's widow Agnes Coutts Michie received the CBE in 1920. In 1928 she gifted a painting of George McCulloch to the Broken Hill Art Gallery, by artist Barnett Samuel Marks.[12]


  1. ^ Curtis, 1908 and Camilleri, 2006.
  2. ^ Glasgow Herald, 1849
  3. ^ Glasgow Herald, 1871
  4. ^ McCallum Laurie, George McCulloch a forgotten Port Glasgow shipbuilder, Scottish Local History, Issue 89 Autumn 2014, published by the Scottish Local history forum
  5. ^ Camilleri, 2006.
  6. ^ Oxford DNB
  7. ^ Probate, George McCulloch, Victoria 8 July 1908
  8. ^ Camilleri, 2006 and Curtis 1908
  9. ^ England Census 1891 and 1901
  10. ^ The Times, 1907
  11. ^ Royal Academy catalogue, exhibition of modern works in painting and sculpture forming the collection of the late George McCulloch Esq, Winter Exhibition, fortieth year MDCCCCIX
  12. ^ The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill), Thursday April 26th 1928


  • The History of Broken Hill, Its Rise and Progress, compiled and edited by Leonard Samuel Curtis, Frearson's Printing House, Adelaide, South Australia, 1908.
  • The Times, 13 December 1907 and other obituaries of George McCulloch.
  • Into the Broken Hill Paddock, published by Jenny Camilleri, printed by Openbook Australia 2006, ISBN 0-646-46245-8
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • George McCulloch, Glasgow, Broken Hill & Kensington, A Life of Ships, Sheep, Silver & Art, published by Lawrence Robert McCallum, 2015, printed by Microfilm Digital Print PO Box 840, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand, ISBN 978-0473-31053-0

External links[edit]