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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McLeod, Donald (1837–1923)

by Margaret Vines

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Donald McLeod (1837-1923), politician, was born in 1837 at Caithness, Scotland, son of Rev. Roderick McLeod of the Free Church of Scotland, and his wife Christina, née McKay. He arrived in Victoria in 1847 with his father, sent out to Gaelic-speaking Highlanders. McLeod senior took up land near Kilmore where Donald grew up before completing an apprenticeship to a Melbourne chemist. Leaving Melbourne to try his luck on the Jim Crow Diggings (Daylesford), he turned bullocky, hauling machinery to neighbouring goldfields, and eventually settled on a small farm at Wombat Flat. On 19 September 1861 at Coburg, Melbourne, he married Annie Rennie.

Appointed town clerk of Daylesford in 1872, McLeod held the position for twenty-eight years, becoming 'a virtual dictator' to the Daylesford Borough Council. He was a leading light in many other local institutions—secretary of the water trust for twenty-eight years, president of the hospital (thirty years) and president of the committee which established Daylesford Technical School. These activities gave him an excellent local base when, in 1900, aged 63, he resigned as town clerk, to be elected with a large majority to the Legislative Assembly for Daylesford. He retained many of his local interests—in the hospital, St George's Masonic Lodge of which he was a founder, and Daylesford Woollen Mills.

As a new M.L.A., McLeod gravitated towards the country liberal faction led by Allan McLean and (Sir) William Irvine, and supported by the Kyabram movement. When in 1902 this group, together with the conservative faction, formed a government led by Irvine, McLeod became an honorary minister. In the subsequent Bent ministry (1904-09) he was minister of mines and of forests with additional short stints as minister of water supply and acting treasurer.

By 1912 McLeod had established himself as leader of a country faction in the Liberal Party, with policies favouring irrigation and water-supply development, and closer settlement. In 1913 the country liberals defeated Premier Watt's proposed redistribution, which threatened them both as individuals and as an interest group, and brought down his government, although Watt survived with a reconstructed ministry.

In the Peacock ministry of 1915-17, McLeod was chief secretary and minister of public health. From this peak in his career, his fortunes declined with those of the Peacock government, although the loyalty of his constituents ensured that he survived its November 1917 electoral disaster. He sat on the corner benches with the Peacock-Lawson group through the Bowser ministry of 1917-18 but was not included in the 1918 Lawson government. Melbourne Punch in 1919 placed him first among the 'men not wanted in the ministry', disqualified by both age and the performance of the Peacock government.

When Donald McLeod died on 8 July 1923 at Middle Park, he was still in harness, the leader of the country liberals and the oldest member of the assembly. Known as the 'Grand Old Man of Daylesford' he was the prototype of the local identity whose career culminated in a distinguished contribution to politics. He was buried in Daylesford cemetery. His wife and seven of their ten children survived him; one son was killed at Pozières in 1916 while serving with the Australian Imperial Force.

Select Bibliography

  • Punch (Melbourne), 31 July 1919
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 July 1923
  • Daylesford Advocate, 10 July 1923.

Citation details

Margaret Vines, 'McLeod, Donald (1837–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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