James McCulloch

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Sir James McCulloch
5th Premier of Victoria
In office
27 June 1863 – 6 May 1868
Preceded byJohn O'Shanassy
Succeeded byCharles Sladen
ConstituencyMornington (1862–1872)
In office
11 July 1868 – 20 September 1869
Preceded byCharles Sladen
Succeeded byJohn Alexander MacPherson
In office
9 April 1870 – 19 June 1871
Preceded byJohn Alexander MacPherson
Succeeded byCharles Gavan Duffy
In office
20 October 1875 – 21 May 1877
Preceded byGraham Berry
Succeeded byGraham Berry
ConstituencyWarrnambool (1874–1878)
Personal details
Born(1819-03-18)18 March 1819
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died31 January 1893(1893-01-31) (aged 73)
Epsom, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
Spouse(s)Susan Renwick (m. 1841)
Margaret Boak Inglis (m. 1867)

Sir James McCulloch, KCMG (18 March 1819 – 31 January 1893) was a British colonial politician and statesman who served as the fifth premier of Victoria over four non-consecutive terms from 1863 to 1868, 1868 to 1869, 1870 to 1871 and 1875 to 1877. He is the third longest-serving premier in Victorian history.

Early life[edit]

McCulloch was born in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the son of George McCulloch, a quarry master and contractor, and Jane Thomson, a farmer's daughter. He had only a primary education and as a young man worked in shops, eventually becoming a junior partner in a softgoods firm. On 11 May 1853 McCulloch arrived in Melbourne aboard the Adelaide (John Everard being a fellow passenger)[1] to manage the mercantile firm of Dennistoun Brothers in Melbourne. Following closure of the Dennistoun office in 1861,[2] James McCulloch started his own business McCulloch, Sellar and Company in partnership with fellow Scot Robert Sellar. In the boom conditions following the Victorian Gold Rush, he soon became a wealthy man and a director of several banks and other companies. He was President of the Chamber of Commerce 1856–1857 and 1862–1863.[3]

Political career[edit]

McCulloch was appointed a member of the Legislative Council on 1 August 1854, replacing Andrew Aldcorn.[4] When Victoria gained responsible government in 1856, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Wimmera, which he represented from November 1856 to around August 1859,[3] when he shifted to East Melbourne from October 1859. He later represented Mornington from March 1862 to around March 1872 and Warrnambool from May 1874 to around May 1878.[3]

The historian Raymond Wright describes McCulloch as a "cautious liberal." He served as Commissioner for Trade and Customs 1857–58 under William Haines and as Treasurer 27 October 1859 to 26 November 1860[3] under William Nicholson. When John O'Shanassy's conservative government resigned in June 1863 McCulloch became Premier and Chief Secretary for the first time. He was also Postmaster-General of Victoria 9 May 1864 to 6 May 1868.[3]

McCulloch's liberal government was the strongest Victoria had yet seen and proved to be the longest-lived so far, surviving for nearly five years. Much of its reforming zeal came from the Attorney-General, George Higinbotham, a crusading radical. The McCulloch government fought a series of battles with the conservative landowners who dominated the Legislative Council. The most important was over the tariff issue: McCulloch was a protectionist while the Council was controlled by free traders.

In 1865, the Council sought a confrontation with the Assembly by rejecting the government's tariff bill and then denying supply to McCulloch's government. McCulloch, who was a director of the London Bank, then took the extraordinary step of lending his own government 860,000 pounds to meet its debts and running expenses. After a conference between the two Houses broke down, McCulloch called an election in February 1866, at which his supporters won a large majority in the Assembly. When the Council again rejected his tariff bill, he resigned, leaving the Governor, Charles Darling, unable to find anyone else who could form a government. Finally, after prolonged negotiations, McCulloch agreed to resume office and the Council passed a modified tariff bill and granted supply. Both sides claimed victory, but most of the concessions were made by the Council.

In 1867 another crisis blew up when the Council again rejected the government's budget because it contained a clause granting a pension to the retiring Governor Darling, which conservatives said was a payment for his collusion in McCulloch's unorthodox methods of financing the government. McCulloch called another election for February 1868, which he won comfortably. But in May word came that the Colonial Secretary in London, the Duke of Buckingham, had instructed the new Governor, Sir John Manners-Sutton, to support the Council in blocking the grant to Darling.

McCulloch at once resigned, and the Governor commissioned a conservative member of the Council, Charles Sladen, to form a government which did not have a majority in the Assembly. This negation of democracy provoked widespread protests and produced a dangerous situation, which was resolved only in July when the Colonial Office changed its mind about Darling's pension and the Council agreed to a moderate reform bill broadening its electoral base. McCulloch resumed office, but without Higinbotham, who disapproved of this compromise.

McCulloch remained in office until September 1869, and was Premier again from 9 April 1870 to 19 June 1871 and from 20 October 1875 to 21 May 1877,[3] but these periods in office were relatively uneventful. His main achievement in this period was to pass a bill abolishing all government funding to religious schools, a measure which was supported by all denominations except the Anglicans since it freed church schools from government supervision. McCulloch's government also introduced a bill to create a system of free, secular government schools, but the Catholics and Anglicans joined forces to block it.

McCulloch grew increasingly conservative after 1870 and in 1875 he had a political falling out with Higinbotham. Tired and disillusioned, he resigned from Parliament in 1878.

Late life and legacy[edit]

After politics, McCulloch focussed on business life, he had several directorships including the Bank of New South Wales.[5] McCulloch was knighted in 1870 and made KCMG in 1874. In 1886, he retired to England, and died in Epsom, Surrey on 31 January 1893; he is buried in the Glasgow Necropolis. He married first Susan Renwick and second Margaret Boak Inglis, but had no children.[3]


A young cousin, George McCulloch, was manager of the Mount Gipps sheep run for McCulloch, Sellar and Co. This country was later the site of the fabulous silver mines of Broken Hill and Silverton, and by good fortune George was one of the original investors and became wealthy from its discovery.[6]

See also[edit]


  • Geoff Browne, A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1900–84, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1985
  • Don Garden, Victoria: A History, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne, 1984
  • Kathleen Thompson and Geoffrey Serle, A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1856–1900, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972
  • Raymond Wright, A People's Counsel. A History of the Parliament of Victoria, 1856–1990, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992
  • "Death of Sir James McCulloch". South Australian Register. Adelaide. 1 February 1893. p. 6. Retrieved 20 July 2013 – via Trove.


  1. ^ Johnson, Robert A. "Everard, John (1825–1886)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  2. ^ Edinburgh Gazette 1 October 1861
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Sir James McCulloch". Re-Member: a database of all Victorian MPs since 1851. Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 27 August 2022.
  4. ^ Sweetman, Edward (1920). Constitutional Development of Victoria, 1851-6. Whitcombe & Tombs Limited. p. 179. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  5. ^ Bartlett, Geoffrey. "McCulloch, Sir James (1819–1893)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Treasure Hill on Sheep Station". The Argus. Melbourne. 2 September 1937. p. 8. Retrieved 20 July 2013 – via Trove.


Victorian Legislative Council
Preceded by Nominated member
1 August 1854 – March 1856
Original Council
Victorian Legislative Assembly
New district Member for Wimmera
November 1856 – August 1859
With: William Hammill 1856–57
John Quarterman 1857–59
Succeeded by
Robert Firebrace
(One member 1859–77)
New district Member for East Melbourne
October 1859 – July 1861
With: Alexander Hunter 1859–61
Graham Berry July 1861
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member for Mornington
March 1862 – March 1872
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member for Warrnambool
May 1874 – May 1878
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by