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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/M'Culloch, Hon. Sir James

M‘Culloch, Hon. Sir James, K.C.M.G., sometime Premier of Victoria, is the son of the late George M‘Culloch, of Glasgow, where he was born in 1819. Having embraced mercantile pursuits, he became in 1853 a partner in the firm of J. & A. Dennistoun, of Glasgow, and proceeded to Melbourne, where, in conjunction with Mr. Robert Sellar, he opened the house of Dennistoun Bros. & Co., in connection with the Glasgow firm, which had also branches in London, Liverpool, New York, and New Orleans. In 1862 the firm of Dennistoun Bros. & Co. of Melbourne was wound up, and Sir James (then Mr.) M‘Culloch founded a new firm in Melbourne in connection with that of Leishman, Inglis & Co., of London, with Mr. Robert Sellar as partner, under the style of M‘Culloch, Sellar & Co., of which firm he is still the senior member. In 1854 he became a nominee member of the old Legislative Council, and in 1856 he was elected to represent the Wimmera electorate in the first Legislative Assembly. In April of the following year he formed a Government, in which he took the portfolio of Minister of Trade and Customs, leaving the Premiership to the late Mr. Haines, with the office of Chief Secretary. Sir James retired with his colleagues in March 1858, and visited England; but having been re-elected to the Assembly on his return, he accepted the post of Treasurer in the Nicholson Administration, which lasted from Oct. 1859 to Nov. 1860. After another visit to England he was returned for Mornington in 1862, and in June of the following year became Premier of the colony of Victoria as Chief Secretary, and for the last four years of its existence Postmaster-General in a Ministry which held the reins under circumstances of extraordinary turmoil until May 1868. Mr. (now Sir) George Verdon was Treasurer of the new administration, and intimated his intention of renewing, under their ægis, the proposals which he had unsuccessfully put forward when occupying the same position in the Heales Ministry for the reduction of the export duty on gold and of the import duties on tea and sugar, and of supplying the deficiency by the imposition of ad valorem duties on the importation of articles which entered into competition with the local industries. Though the proposed duties were only to range from 5 per cent. to a maximum of 10, and were fathered by a Ministry mainly composed of Free-traders, who advocated them on revenue grounds, the importing interest at once took the alarm, and rallied to their support all that class of unbending economists whose devotion to free trade led them to regard it as an axiomatic principle admitting of no exceptions on grounds of fiscal expediency or the exigencies of a new community. Simultaneously the declared protectionists, who were daily growing in popularity, declined to accept the ministerial proposals as anything more than a halting step in the right direction; and when, at the general election in 1864, the ranks of this party were greatly reinforced, it is not surprising that the M‘Culloch Government should have been strengthened, instead of weakened, in their determination to carry through their very moderate proposals. The free trade party were intrenched in the Legislative Council, where their majority was overwhelming; and availing themselves of the experience acquired in the previous session, when payment of members having passed in the Assembly, was ignominiously rejected in the Council, the Ministry resolved to secure that there should be no repetition of such tactics in relation to their tariff. Backed by their large majority in the Assembly, they determined to tack the tariff to the Appropriation Bill for 1864, and thus to vindicate once for all, as had been done by the House of Commons in past times, the supremacy of the Lower House in matters of finance. The Council accepted the challenge, and threw out the Appropriation Bill, thus depriving the Government of the means of paying the civil servants, the works contractors, and other public creditors. Sir James M‘Culloch was not, however, a man to be easily beaten, and he found ready to his hand a legal weapon which for the time being at least would enable him to frustrate the action of the Council. Whilst with one hand the Government collected the new duties on the authority of the Assembly alone, they took advantage of a clause in the Audit Act which directed the Governor to sign the necessary warrants for the payment of any sums awarded by verdicts of the Supreme Court to persons who had sued the Government. The Government, to start with, borrowed £40,000 of the London Chartered Bank to meet pressing payments, and the Bank, at their instigation, sued them for the amount owing. The Government law officers let judgment go by default, the Governor signed the needful warrant, and on it the Treasury paid the amount of the payment to the Bank, who re-loaned it to the Government. And so the process was repeated and the deadlock avoided. It having been complained that the Council had not had an opportunity of passing the Tariff Bill without the indignity of the tack, the Government in 1865 passed the bill through the Assembly in a separate form, but in the meantime withheld the Appropriation Bill. This the Council regarded as adding insult to injury, and promptly rejected the Tariff Bill. The Government on this decided to appeal to the country, and came back strongly reinforced; their followers, when the House met in Feb. 1856, numbering fifty-eight out of a total of seventy-eight members. The Tariff Bill was again sent up to the Council; and a despatch, censuring the conduct of the Government in collecting the new duties on the vote of one house alone, having in the meantime been received from Mr. Cardwell, the then Colonial Secretary, they were emboldened to again throw it out. Sir James M‘Culloch thereupon resigned; but the Governor found it impossible to get other advisers, and Sir James resumed office. He now suspended his financial arrangements with the London Chartered Bank, and left to the Council the full responsibility of the suspension of public payments. Calmer counsels now prevailed, and a conference was held between two Houses, when some slight alterations in the Tariff Bill were assented to, and the Council passed the Bill, thus putting an end to the long struggle—only, however, for it to burst out in a new and envenomed form. Just at the moment when peace was restored, Sir Charles Darling was recalled by the Home Government on the ground that he had displayed partisanship in assisting the M‘Culloch Government and the majority in the Assembly to coerce the Upper House. In order to mark the national gratitude to the outgoing Governor thus censured in the popular cause, the Assembly decided to offer a grant of £20,000 to Lady Darling; but, owing to the fact that the Colonial Secretary intimated that Sir Charles Darling must retire from the colonial service if the gift were accepted by his wife, and the necessity of communicating with Sir Charles Darling before deciding on the action to be taken in consequence, the amount was not actually voted till August 1867, when it was included in the annual Appropriation Bill, which was at once rejected by the Council. The deadlock now recurred with all its former intensity. The new Governor, Sir John Henry Manners-Sutton (afterwards Viscount Canterbury) less complaisant than his predecessor, refused to endorse the judgments of the Supreme Court in favour of the Government creditors, and the former ingenious sources of satisfaction were thus shut off, leaving the M‘Culloch Ministry no other resource but to resign. The new Governor found it as impossible as his predecessor had done to form an alternative Government, Mr. Fellows, to whom he primarily applied, declining to guide his course in relation to the Darling grant by the results of another appeal to the country. Sir James M‘Culloch resumed office, and obtained the passage of a temporary supply bill, on a pledge that no part of the money voted should be applied to the payment of the obnoxious grant. After a brief recess Parliament was again called together; the Governor, to put an end to the trouble, agreeing, now that Sir Charles Darling had resigned the public service, to recommend the Council to pass the Appropriation Bill with the £20,000 grant included. The Council, however, formally repudiated his intervention, but agreed to consider the grant on its merits if it were sent up to them as a separate measure. The Government was inclined to agree to this course, but the Assembly insisted on its continued inclusion in the Appropriation Bill, or otherwise they would be committed to the admission that tacking was unconstitutional, and would thus abrogate the privileges which they had fought so hard to vindicate. The result was that the Council again summarily rejected the Appropriation Bill. Another temporary supply bill was introduced; but the Council rejected it, on the ground that there was no guarantee that it might not be utilised to pay the Darling grant. In this dilemma the Ministry had recourse to their old device for meeting public payments in a modified form. They decided not to have recourse to a bank, but notified the public creditors that if they brought actions individually against the Crown they would not be defended. Even the Governor was impressed with the necessities of the situation, and agreed to this course being adopted, so long as the procedure was confined to the payment of services necessary for the protection of life and property or the prevention of dangerous confusion. In the meantime Parliament was again dissolved, with the result that the Government supporters counted sixty as against eighteen for the Opposition. In the meantime the Duke of Buckingham had become Colonial Secretary, and a despatch was received from him forbidding the Governor to in any way facilitate the adoption of the Darling grant. This was tantamount to prohibiting its inclusion in the Appropriation Bill. Sir James M‘Culloch and his colleagues immediately resigned, and after prolonged negotiations Sir Charles Sladen agreed to form, in the teeth of hostile votes in the Assembly, a ministry which only lasted two months. In the meantime the deadlock seemed likely to become more stringent than ever, it being now the turn of the Assembly to block Governmental supplies. Just at the most critical juncture the Colonial Office made its peace with Sir Charles Darling, who withdrew his resignation from the service, and at the same time terminated the dilemma by intimating the inability of himself or his wife to accept anything in the shape of a donation from the people of Victoria. Two years later, when Sir James M‘Culloch was once more Premier, a measure passed both Houses, which secured a life annuity of £1000 a year to Lady Darling, whose husband had in the meantime died in England. Sir James M‘Culloch resumed office as Premier, Treasurer, and Chief Secretary, with a slightly altered following, in July 1868, on the retirement of the Sladen Government, who still remained in a hopeless minority in the Assembly. The second M‘Culloch Ministry resigned in September of the following year, Sir James becoming Premier for the third time in April 1870, when he again took the portfolio of Treasurer and Chief Secretary. Additional taxation being necessary, Mr. M‘Culloch was urged by his protectionist supporters to increase the import duties; but this he refused to do, proposing to provide for the deficit by levying a tax on town, suburban and country property. This scheme proving unacceptable, he resigned, and was succeeded by Mr. (now Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy, in June 1871. In the meantime Sir James had been knighted in celebration of the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, who arrived in Victoria during his second premiership, For a considerable period during the years 1872 and 1873 he acted as Agent-General in London for Victoria, and in 1874 was created K.C.M.G. Returning to the colony he became Premier, Chief Secretary, and Treasurer for the fourth and last time on Oct. 20th, 1875, and held office till May 1877, when, his party sustaining a crushing defeat at the general election, he made way for Mr. (now Sir Graham) Berry, who, on the ground that the majority supporting the last M‘Culloch Government in the Assembly only represented the minority in the country, persistently obstructed the business of the Lower House during the latter portion of Sir James' tenure of office, with the view of forcing on a dissolution. This course of conduct led to the introduction of the closure, or "iron hand," as it was locally called, with a view to frustrating the obstructionist, or, as they were styled, the "stonewalling" tactics of the Opposition under Mr. Berry, Sir James M‘Culloch was himself re-elected for Warrnambool in 1877; but finding his party reduced to an inconsiderable fraction in the Assembly, he shortly afterwards retired from Parliament, and has since, with a short interval, resided in England, where he is now permanently settled. Sir James was twice President of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, and has been chairman of several banks and numerous important public companies. He takes a warm interest in the National Gallery of Victoria, of which he was a trustee for many years, and has assisted in the selection of numerous paintings purchased for it in England. He married, first, in 1841, Susan, daughter of the late Rev. James Renwick, of Muirton, Scotland; and, secondly, in 1867, Margaret, daughter of William Inglis, of Walflat, Dumbartonshire.