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Blackwood, John Hutchison (1827–1908)

by G. R. Henning

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Hutchison Blackwood (1827-1908), shipowner and pastoralist, was born on 28 December 1827 at Dowhill, near Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of Hew Blackwood, farmer, and his wife Janet, née Richard, of Auldhouseburn. His elder brothers James and Richard migrated to Melbourne and John followed them, arriving on 21 August 1852. In 1853 he entered a shipping partnership with Captain James McMeckan, and the firm McMeckan, Blackwood & Co. conducted an agency for the steamer Havilah in the Melbourne-Adelaide trade. In the shipping boom during the gold rushes the partners acquired the agency for four more steamships. In 1858 the firm built its first steamer, Omeo, which brought the submarine telegraph cable for the Cape Otway-Tasmania connexion on her maiden voyage from England. More ships were bought and the firm began a regular Melbourne-Wellington run in 1858. With the New Zealand gold rushes a branch was established in Dunedin and eventually the company had to employ another twelve ships.

Meanwhile business from the Melbourne-Adelaide trade was increasing with extensive cargoes of wheat and flour. After 1870 a general cargo and passenger traffic developed between Melbourne and Port Darwin, where the Omeo had carried men and equipment for laying the submarine cable to Java. A trade was also built up between Melbourne, Adelaide and the south-eastern ports of South Australia.

In addition to the shipping business Blackwood also led an active public life. He was a director of the Southern Insurance Co. and represented Melbourne West in the Legislative Assembly in 1864-67, being a prominent member of the unofficial Opposition. When the Melbourne Sailors' Home appeal was first opened in 1865 Blackwood's firm donated £100 and he served on its committee in 1867-70. He was a member of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce for some years and its president in 1870-71. The chamber, then very concerned about the selling arrangements for Australian wool, helped to form the Colonial Wool Merchants' Association of London; it also tried hard to have decimal currency and a metric system of weights and measures adopted. On 9 January 1880 Blackwood was appointed a commissioner of the Melbourne Harbor Trust, a position he held until 6 September 1882, and in September 1880 he was appointed to the Steam Navigation Board. His other great interest was the Presbyterian Church and for some years he served on the board of management of Scots Church, Melbourne. His inspiration and encouragement was said to have overcome the financial diffidence of the congregation and resulted in building the church in Collins Street.

By the early 1880s McMeckan, Blackwood & Co. had again become shipping agents rather than owners. The two ships which operated along the south-eastern coast of South Australia were sold to the Adelaide Steamship Co. and the Mount Gambier Steam Ship Co. After severe ship losses on the New Zealand coast in the mid-1870s, the New Zealand business was sold to the large and powerful Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand in 1878. This firm had inaugurated its Australian service in 1877 and the new purchase gave it a virtual monopoly over the trans-Tasman services. As a result McMeckan, Blackwood & Co. became the agent for the three companies to which it had sold its ships. Blackwood and McMeckan then became partners in Booabula station in the Riverina and retired from city life after 1882. After McMeckan died Blackwood became the sole proprietor and later spent a few years in England. When he returned he devoted his energies to the improvement of the property, and his merinos won prizes in Melbourne and New South Wales in 1889-1907. Blackwood died at Booabula on 23 January 1908, survived by his wife Eleanor, daughter of Rev. John Morgan of Brighton, England; their only child, a son, had died in infancy.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Franklyn, A Glance at Australia in 1880 (Melb, 1881)
  • T. W. H. Leavitt and W. D. Lilburn (eds), The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne, vol 1 (Melb, 1888)
  • B. Cowderoy, Melbourne's Commercial Jubilee (Melb, 1901)
  • A. S. Kenyon, The Story of Australia: Its Discoverers and Founders (Geelong, nd)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, Sept 1880
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 Jan 1908
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 Jan 1908
  • F. K. Crowley, Aspects of the Constitutional Conflicts Between the Two Houses of the Victorian Legislature, 1864-1868 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1947)
  • Biddle papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

G. R. Henning, 'Blackwood, John Hutchison (1827–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/blackwood-john-hutchison-3010/text4405, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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