BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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Sir Samuel McCaughey, Australian Pioneer and Patriot

Samuel McCaughey, Tullynewy (or Tullynewey), Ballymena is quite well known locally and a ‘blue plaque’ erected by Ulster History Circle on the gable wall of currently occupied dwelling on Cloughwater Road says, ‘Sir Samuel McCaughey, 1835-1919, Australian Sheep King’ lived here.’ Sheep and Sir Samuel, after his uncle Charles Wilson persuaded him to emigrate to Australia in 1856, were indeed to become inseparable.
AWM Collection Record: H16974, pre 1919, no known author. Copyright free.
Samuel McCaughey was born at Tullynewy, Clough, near Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, on July 1st, 1835, and he was the eldest son of Francis and Eliza McCaughey, nee Wilson. Samuel had two brothers and seven sisters.

Francis McCaughey was a linen merchant and farmer. The former business was a cottage industry, much of the process being completed on the farm— ploughing, seeding, pulling flax, soaking (retting) in special dams, the separation of the fibre (scutching) and its preparation for spinning and weaving. The product, usually brown linen, was handled by men like Francis McCaughey in his Ballymena warehouse, from where, usually bleached and finished, it was dispatched abroad. One of the McCaughey consignments was said to have been valued at £50,000, this giving an indication of the scale of the McCaughey enterprise.

Francis McCaughey also owned a farm at Tullynewy, Clough, and the farm and the linen merchant's office were the background of Samuel McCaughey’s early training. His father put him into the office in Ballymena to learn accounting and the whole routine of the business, while at the same time he helped in the oversight of the farm. Samuel was groomed to take over the family business in Ireland, but he went to Australia, his uncle Charles Wilson being the spur.
Twenty one year old Samuel McCaughey had landed at Melbourne in April that year and then walked 200 miles to his uncle’s farm at Horsham, Victoria to take up a role as a ‘Jackeroo’, an inexperienced hand working as an apprentice on a sheep station. He excelled in the role and was soon station manager, and as his obituary said, was eventually to become ‘one of the greatest forces in the development of the sheep breeding and wool-producing industry of Australia’.

Having learned his trade on the Kewell and Walmer Stations he decided to go into business for himself, and in 1860, in partnership with David Wilson and John Cochrane, he acquired a one third share of Coonong, a 42,000 acre sheep station near Urana in the Riverina region of New South Wales.  Water shortages made the venture troublesome; drought and other problems caused the others to give up their stake and Samuel became sole owner of Coonong Station in 1864. He went on to acquire the Singorimba and Goolgumbla stations and by 1872 held 137,000 acres. Later Rockwood and Barenya, in Queensland, were added.

Goolgumbla, near Jerilderie, his second purchase, was managed by his brother John; he later went to the Darling Basin as part owner of Toorale and Dunlop Stations, and he managed them until he came to live at Yarrabee Station. This land at Yarrabee Station, on the Yanco Creek, near Narrandera, Samuel had purchased in conjunction with his brother John. Subsequently John McCaughey became the sole owner of Yarrabee, which he held until retirement in 1924.

Samuel McCaughey had returned to visit his widowed mother at Tullynewy in 1871 and returned to Australia with yet another of his brothers, David, to help in the management of his growing holdings. David McCaughey was destined to become owner of Coree Station and it was to his son Roy that Samuel eventually sold Coonong, his first property. Roy McCaughey, born 2 October 1898 at Coree station, Jerilderie, NSW, was the fourth child of David McCaughey (died 1899), brother of Samuel. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant (1915-16) and Lieutenant (1917-18) with 46th Battery, 1st Divisional Artillery, Royal Field Artillery during the Great War. It was on his return to Australia that he bought Coonong from his uncle's estate in 1919.

It is impossible to list all the family holdings but it may suffice to say that at times Samuel McCaughey owned or had a share in twelve sheep stations in New South Wales and three in Queensland, these with a total area of about 3,250,000 acres. Indeed, by the time the Commonwealth of Australia was officially created he had the largest flock of sheep in the world, a flock crossbred with imported ewes and rams from many parts of the world, and he was reputed to shearing over one million head around the end of the 19th century.

He was a wealthy man and his business made him a pioneer in other areas.  He was one of the key developers of the merino sheep breed in Australia, though details of this achievement, sometimes disputed, are not relevant here. He pioneered the development of mechanical sheep shearing, essential as he had so many sheep. It is, however, worthy of note that he worked with another Irishman on this venture, a certain Frederick York Wolseley, originally from Kingstown, Co Dublin. He had arrived in Australia in about 1854 and by the 1880s he had developed the first machine-powered wool shears, first demonstrated at McCaughey’s Dunlop Station in 1888. He subsequently returned to England in 1889 and set up the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company.  He resigned from it in 1894, but the next year the company’s general manager, a certain Herbert Austin, produced the first Wolseley car!

McCaughey, since much of his holdings were in arid areas, became a pioneer of irrigation. Richard A. Rawling (1918-1921), a newspaper correspondent in Newport, N.S.W., recalled one anecdote about a not-so-old widow visiting the North Yanco station and being driven around the property by determined bachelor Sir Samuel. On return to the magnificent homestead she said "It's all wonderful, Sir Samuel", then a trifle archly "but of course you know there is one thing needed". "Yes, I know" said Sir Samuel, "water, more b -- water". Exit widow.

His attempts to convey the annual floodwaters from the Murrumbidgee River to his nearby parched land, some of it in the area explorer John Oxley had in 1817 described as desolate plains 'unlikely to be visited by civilized man' thereafter, are said to have been the inspiration for the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA). McCaughey certainly built an irrigation system, his main canal running 30 miles. Other sources say he constructed around it a complex irrigation system with some 200 miles of channels and used two steam engines to pump water from the Murrumbidgee Basin, and that it was his success that persuaded the government to build the Burrinjuck Dam, completed in 1927. It is certainly true that it is around his infrastructure that the Government’s Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme was developed. Many Australians believe the ‘bread basket’ he helped create failed when the UK joined the European Union and gave priority to European suppliers.

Sir Samuel McCaughey and his brothers David and John, indeed wider family, were very wealthy men and hence their importance in the Great war, for they were immensely patriotic. Samuel had paid £10,000 (£1 in 1900 is worth about £86 today) to send an Australian contingent to the Boer War in South Africa, something that helped get him a knighthood in 1905. He also, perhaps less appreciated in London, intervened in the Home Rule Crisis after 1912 and helped to bankroll the Larne Gun Running of 1914 which armed the Ulster Volunteer Force. He also contributed £10,000 to the Dreadnought Scheme. The Dreadnought Fund was originally set up to purchase a Dreadnought battleship in preparation for possible war in Europe, though the money was not required and was used to fund the Dreadnought Farm Scheme through which English teenagers were brought to Australia to be trained to work on farms. This would probably have met with his approval because he was one of those patriotic Australians who believed at the immigration of key personnel into agriculture, engineering, education, etc was essential for the proper development of Australia. Indeed, he continued the work after his death by leaving very substantial sums of money, then £1,000,000 - £1,250,000, to the Universities of Sydney and Brisbane, and other substantial monies to various schools.

McCaughey contributed at least twenty aircraft to help found an Australian airforce.
The outbreak of the Great War led him to help create an Australian air force, perhaps indeed making him the father of the Royal Australian Air Force’. Some say he personally paid for a least twenty aircraft to assist in its establishment. He may even have helped, somewhat indirectly, to create Qantas, Australia’s airline. Qantas history begins in March 1919 when a pair of Gallipoli airmen, former Australian Flying Corps officers W Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, heard of a £10,000 prize offered by the Federal Government for the first Australians to fly from England to Australia within 30 days. The two young lieutenants had flown a Bristol fighter aircraft presented to No.1 Squadron, AFC by the millionaire. They travelled to New South Wales to secure sponsorship from McCaughey. He agreed to finance their adventure, but he died before a suitable aircraft was found. Sadly, the executors of McCaughey’s estate withdrew support from the pair. Their scheme in ruins, Fysh and McGinness accepted an assignment to survey part of the race’s route on behalf the Defence Department. They travelled from Longreach in north-western Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory in a Model T Ford, an arduous and dangerous journey of 51 days never before attempted, and the difficulties encountered highlighted the need for a regular aerial service link. Fysh and McGinness gained sponsorship for a regular air service from wealthy grazier Fergus McMaster, someone whom McGinness had once assisted in the remote outback when his car broke an axle. Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services) was born.

McCaughey, a member of the Legislative Council after 1899, contributed to the war in other ways, too. He assisted in recruiting by defraying the cost of the insurance of five hundred men against death or total disablement, an example which was followed by other wealthy men and which resulted in a large number of men being enabled to go to the front who had been deterred by their private obligations. Moreover, during the Great War he contributed generously to the Red Cross and other war charities. His will, after limited specific bequests, left a huge sum for the relief of members of the Australian Military and Naval Expeditionary Forces and their widows and children. The 'McCaughey bequest allowed the payment of tuition fees, and could also be applied to certain cases which were excluded under the official scheme. In close co-operation with the Repatriation Commission assistance has thus been made available for the training of children for trades or agricultural occupations, or for educating them at any stage between the elementary school and the university. By 1936, 12,600 soldiers' children had been educated or were in course of being educated from the McCaughey trust money, and it was calculated that, within ten more years, 6,500 others would be benefited, very many of them being assisted by the trustees in co-operation with the Commission' -  from Australia in Arms, Phillip F E Schuler.

Sir Samuel McCaughey died on the 25th July 1919 and was buried in St John’s Presbyterian Churchyard, Narrandera, his funeral service taken by the ex-moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly of Australia, the Reverend Professor MacIntyre; McCaughey was a devoted Presbyterian and, aiming to spread its domain, he had generously supported the church during his lifetime, as had his brothers.  He also supported the Presbyterian Church of Australia in his will, and he left monies to support the Presbyterian churches at ‘Cloughwater, Broughshane and Clough in his native Ireland. It is scarcely surprising that his obituary says, ‘The name of Samuel McCaughey must always figure amongst the greatest men that Australia has known’. Few could have contributed more. The minister who spoke at the funeral of John McCaughey thought, ‘They were privileged to belong to an empire which bred men of the character of the McCaughey brothers. Those men came from the north of Ireland to this land of Australia, and helped to make this country what it was to-day.