The Fairfax billions

The Victorian western district in the 1840s welcomed a character who became a land agent who got into a bit of trouble, so he moved to Queensland and got into a bit more trouble, but he finally made good. Maybe. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

In 1840, Samuel Macgregor landed in Warrnambool in the Victorian western district, three hundred and fifty kilometres south-west of Melbourne. He made headlines the following year when he rode his horse from the western district to Sydney, which is a distance of seven hundred miles in twenty-three days.

Samuel Macgregor

At Warrnambool he was the first road committee in 1853, a member of the first council and the first mayor in 1856-57. There’s a road by the racecourse named in his honour.

But on the dark side, it was said that he once hosted bushranger Frank Gardiner the night before a notable robbery.

Frank Gardiner

Macgregor himself was a land agent and stock auctioneer and was heavily involved with dummying for the squatters around the district. That’s the practice of using ‘dummy’ bidders for the squatters to buy back land they lost during the land disputes with selectors.

Macgregor was in business with another western district character by the name of Billy Rutledge. Rutledge’s businesses flourished until one of his companies went bankrupt with debts of around £117,000.

In 1874, Macgregor himself went broke with liabilities rumoured to be £60,000 which is more than $65,000,000 in today’s money.

He chose to move to Ipswich in Queensland.

By the way, his place as a stock and station agent in the district was filled in Hamilton by Alfred Tennyson Dickens who was the son of English writer Charles Dickens.

Anyway, when Macgregor moved to Ipswich, he set up business at Redbank again as a stock and station agent.

He threw himself into society and joined the committee of the Queensland Pastoral and Agricultural Society. He even unsuccessfully ran for parliament as a candidate for Bundamba in the Queensland Legislative Assembly.

John Fairfax

In 1882, it seemed that Samuel Macgregor had finally made it to the pinnacle of society. That’s when his oldest daughter Jessie married the son of the printer and journalist William Fairfax. That’s the Fairfax family whose Australian media empire went on to be worth billions of dollars!

However, just like earlier in life, success was cruelly taken away. That’s because, yes, his Fairfax son-in-law was indeed a printer and journalist, but he was only a second-cousin of John Fairfax and his billionaire family of Sydney Morning Herald fame. So no wealth resulted there.

What’s more, in 1891 Macgregor was again insolvent, this time with total debts of over £2,000.

The former mayor of Warrnambool and twice-insolvent Ipswich auctioneer Samuel Macgregor died in 1908. He’s buried in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery, and never really made his fortune by going to Ipswich.


Photo credits:
Grampian mountains in the Victorian western district – Harold Peacock 2023
Samuel Macgregor – State Library of Victoria
Portrait of Australian bushranger Frank Gardiner – Wikipedia Commons
John Fairfax – State Library of New South Wales


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