McCULLOCH, Sir James (1819-1893)

McCULLOCH, Sir James (1819-1893)
four times premier of Victoria
son of George McCulloch, was born at Glasgow m 1819. He had a primary education at a local school and obtained employment in the business of Dennistoun Brothers, merchants. He showed such diligence that he gradually rose, was made a junior partner, and in 1853 was sent to Melbourne to organize an Australian branch of the business. In 1854 he was nominated a member of the old legislative council of Victoria. In 1856, under the new constitution, he was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Wimmera, and in April of the next year was called upon by the governor to form a ministry. He attempted a coalition with O'Shanassy (q.v.), but the negotiations broke down and eventually W. C. Haines (q.v.) became premier with McCulloch holding the position of commissioner of trade and customs. In October 1859, when the W. Nicholson (q.v.) government came in, McCulloch was treasurer, but the early governments of Victoria had no lasting qualities and he was out of office again in September 1860. In June 1863 he was asked to form a ministry and succeeded in getting together the strongest cabinet that had held office up to that time. It lasted for nearly five years, and there were opportunities to bring in valuable legislation which were not fully availed of. In fact much of the time was taken up with a constitutional struggle relating to the powers of the legislative council. The governor, Sir Charles Darling, was not a strong man, and his conduct of affairs did nothing to improve matters. At the election held in August 1864, the government obtained a large majority, including many men who were strong democrats looked upon as dangers to the community by the conservative legislative council. Both McCulloch and Higinbotham (q.v.), his attorney-general, were free-traders, but to the astonishment of everyone a large number of protective duties were introduced as part of the government policy under the guise of "revenue duties". Knowing that these would be strongly opposed in the council, the tariff bill was tacked on to the appropriation bill, passed through the assembly, and sent to the council which promptly rejected it. The government now being unable to pay the civil servants, the ingenious device was adopted of borrowing money from a bank, getting the bank to sue for the amount owing, and allowing judgment to go by default. The treasury repaid the amount to the bank, which lent the money to the government again. The struggle went on for years, McCulloch showing a grim determination that would have been more useful in a better cause. On the one hand McCulloch was able to say that he had the people behind him, and that they should rule, and on the other the council claimed that the "tacking" of a bill was a breach of constitutional usage. A full account of the struggle will be found in Turner's History of Victoria and in Rusden's History of Australia.
McCulloch resigned in May 1868 and Sladen (q.v.) formed a stop-gap ministry which lasted only two months. The question then at issue was a proposed grant of £20,000 to Darling, the late governor. Darling, however, having been given a pension of £1000 a year by the British government, ended the matter by stating that neither he nor Lady Darling could accept the proposed grant. McCulloch became premier again in July 1868 and was also chief secretary and treasurer. He was succeeded by J. A. Macpherson (q.v.) in September 1869 but again was in power in April 1870 and was able to form a strong cabinet. He passed an act doing away with state aid to religion, but an attempt to bring in a property tax without exemptions, resulted in the downfall of his ministry in 1871. In 1872 he became agent-general for Victoria in London for about two years. In October 1875 he formed his fourth ministry. His term of office was marked by much bitter feeling, and the government, being opposed by persistent stonewalling from the opposition under Berry (q.v.), was able to do business only by the application of the closure. At the election held in May 1877 the government was badly defeated, though McCulloch retained his seat. He retired from politics in 1878, devoted his time to business interests, and had an important share in the development of the frozen meat trade. Early in 1886 he finally left Australia for England, where he died on 31 January 1893. He married 1) Susan Renwick and (2) Margaret Inglis, who survived him. There were no children of either marriage. He was twice president of the Melbourne chamber of commerce, a director of several important financial institutions, and was a vice-president of the trustees of the public library, museums, and national gallery of Victoria. He was knighted in 1870 and created K.C.M.G. in 1874.
McCulloch was a man of robust physique and energetic character. He had great determination, and was a forcible debater with a clear and unvarnished style. As a politician, he became something of an opportunist, and towards the end of his career was rebuked by Service (q.v.) for the intrigues by which "he had successively turned two governments out of office and wasted four months of public time, without having anything better to offer than an imperfect adaptation of the proposals submitted by those governments". However true that may have been, McCulloch's force of character and sagacious intellect had made him an important and often dominating figure during the first 20 years of politics in Victoria.
P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria; G. W. Rusden, History of Australia; The Argus and The Age, Melbourne, 1 February 1893; Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1893.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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