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Review of books about George McCulloch and Broken Hill

This article has no connection with Malvern in England

Here is a review of some books and a thesis about the Victorian art collector George McCulloch whose collection of paintings we have outlined in our pages about Victorian Art and Artists, and who was instrumental in the formation of the Broken Hill mining company.

George McCulloch


A life of Ships, Sheep, Silver and Art

by Lawrence McCallum

ISBN 9780473310530

Published in 2015

SummaryBook cover

The Victorian era was one of great opportunity. While the 'water cure doctors' in Great Malvern were selling restorative cures to the well-off, and painters and sculptors in London were busy creating and selling then modern works of art to affluent merchants and businessmen, a young Scot named George McCulloch pursued a remarkable career abroad.

His story is now told in much greater detail than we have related in a new book by New Zealand historian and author Lawrence McCallum who is a descendant of George McCulloch's cousin Agnes. The book (see cover opposite) is probably one of the best researched biographies of George McCulloch that has ever been published, and is fully supported by many references.

George McCulloch was born at Glasgow in 1848 into a middle class family; he was only 9 months old when sadly his father James, a road contractor, died in an outbreak of Cholera which swept Glasgow in December 1848 and January 1849; so it was that George was brought up by his widowed mother aided by his maternal uncle John Robertson, a farmer.

In his teenage years George joined his older brothers James, Allan and John who had set up as sheep farmers in what is now Uruguay. Aged 21 he returned to Glasgow and invested in a ship building business at Port Glasgow. Despite successfuly launching a number of ships, that business foundered and George, now penniless, emigrated to Australia, where his cousin James McCulloch had established a successful business as a merchant in Melbourne with his business partner Robert Sellar.

George was given the job of running his cousin's sheep station at Mount Gipps in the outback, and it was there that some years later George was instrumental in the forming of the Broken Hill Proprietary mining company in 1885 following the discovery of ores of tin and lead by his boundary rider Charles Rasp in 1883.

After two years of fruitless digging, silver ore was discovered at Broken Hill, and the investors became rich men.

George sold his shares, before their peak, possibly bearing in mind the failure of his first business venture, and retired to London where he had a large house built at Kensington and became a well known collector of Victorian Art.

He died at London in 1907 at the age of 59 years, and is buried at Brookwood cemetery near Woking. His friend, the American painter John Singer Sargent, is buried nearby in an area known as the 'Ring'.

Lawrence McCallum's book is likely to be of especial interest to historians and university libraries, particularly in Scotland, England, Australia and the USA.

Where to purchase

The book can be purchased on-line from Smiths Bookshop in New Zealand:

Tannery Emporium,

3 Garlands Road,

Woolston Christchurch 8023,

New Zealand

E-mail: books@smithsbookshop.co.nz

Website: http://www.smithsbookshop.co.nz

The website does not currently have a search box, but the book can be found listed under NZ Regional History, and then Australia.

Nominal price: $39.99

Related books

In The Broken Hill Paddock


by Jenny Camilleri

ISBN 0646462458

Published in 2006

Broken Hill book coverGeorge McCulloch would have been a well known and influential figure in the latter half of his life and his career is recorded in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

However in recent years he had become largely forgotten until the publication of a book by Australian historian and author Jenny Camilleri who published 'In The Broken Hill Paddock' in 2006.

The launch of the book broadly coincided with the 125th anniversary of the signing of the first mining lease which led to the creation of the town of Broken Hill - the town held a celebration of this event in 2008.

The book starts with the story of George McCulloch and the Syndicate of Seven who were pivotal in the formation of the Broken Hill Proprietary mining company, and continues with stories about many of the citizens connected to the town and district. It is not just a history of the mine, but a social history of the early days of Broken Hill.

The book is available to purchase directly from the author:

Jenny Camilleri

75 Pell Street

Broken Hill

NSW 2880



The Big Fella

The rise and rise of BHP Billiton

by Peter Thomson and Robert Macklin

ISBN: 9781741667110

Published in 2010

This book is a history of the mining company BHP Billiton, describing how Broken Hill Proprietary evolved over many years.

Big Fella book coverPeter Thompson and Robert Macklin reveal the visions, the schemes, the scandals and the corporate life-and-death struggles that have characterised BHP's evolution from the first lucky strike by Charles Rasp at Broken Hill in 1883 to its merger with Billiton in 2001 to its daring bid for Rio Tinto six years later.

The result is a gripping story of foresight and blunder, of nation-building and rampant ego, of greed and of grace, written by two master storytellers with, for the first time, access to the key players themselves.

The Big Fella won the 2010 Blake Dawson Prize for Business Literature.

(Source: Random House, Australia)

Available from Amazon and most book sellers.

Paintings in the collection of George McCulloch

University of Auckland, New Zealand thesis

by Annemarie Hay

Published in 2014

In retirement George McCulloch collected paintings, and on our pages you will find a transcription of the list of paintings exhibited after his death at the Royal Academy, London, in 1909.

Hay thesis coverIn 2014 Annemarie Hay, a research student at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, published a thesis on George McCulloch's art collection for an MA project.

This was concerned with:

 re-establishing the significance of George McCulloch (1848-1907) as a collector of late Victorian art, as well as looking at the importance of his collection both in terms of its major themes, and as a reflection of contemporary culture at the time.

It is a detailed and fascinating commentary on the collection containing many illustrations of the artworks purchased by George McCulloch, and the mansion he built to house them.

Enquiries about obtaining a copy should be directed to the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

It is hoped these short reviews will be of a little help to those researching Victorian art and Broken Hill for the first time.

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