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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mills, Charles (1832–1916)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Charles Mills (1832-1916), sheep breeder, was born at Horsburgh Castle, Peebleshire, Scotland, son of George Mills, a sheep farmer from one of the oldest lowland families, and his wife Jean, née Purves. Educated at the Edinburgh Institution, he found office work distasteful and for eight years worked with Border Leicester sheep at Gilmanscleuch, a farm his father leased for him in Selkirkshire. He migrated to Melbourne in 1863 and worked on the McKenzie family's Mount Pleasant station in north Gippsland. With J. J. Smart and Andrew Neilson he later took up two large leaseholds, Watchem and Morton Plains, on the fringe of the Mallee in north-western Victoria. Successful, he sold his share in the stations in 1872 and went to Scotland, where in December 1874 he married Margaret, daughter of John Ainslie, a sheep breeder of Fairfield, near Edinburgh, and returned to Australia with her.

In 1875, with Neilson and William Smith, Mills bought Uardry, 70,000 acres (28,328 ha) on the northern bank of the Murrumbidgee near Hay. They were fortunate in acquiring a small flock of pure Peppin merinos. Mills managed the property and made the stud flock his personal care. By careful selection, mating and avoiding outside blood, he established a first-class merino flock with 'a bold combing wool of medium to strong quality'. From the 1880s Uardry sheep were exhibited at the Hay show, where they won 104 champions and firsts, and 60 second prizes. Experts agreed that 'no better-shaped or better conditioned merino sheep' had been bred.

When his partners died Mills bought their shares and continued to control Uardry until 1900, when his eldest son Ainslie, and then his third son Neilson, took over the practical management; they later formed a family company, Charles Mills (Uardry) Ltd. Mills continued to advise what was one of the most highly improved and intensively irrigated studs in Australia. By 1917 Uardry had 38 ground tanks, 11 wells and 15 sub-artesian bores equipped with windmills, tanks and troughs.

In 1870-79 Mills served on the Board of Sheep Directors for the Hay District, and was appointed a magistrate on 2 August 1883. 'One of the most noted merino sheep breeders of Australia', he was unpretentious, kindly and given to 'quaint humour and droll sayings'. In his last years he lived at Fyan's Lodge, Toorak, Melbourne, where he died on 20 May 1916, survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters; he was buried in the Boroondara cemetery. A Uardry ram adorned the reverse side of the one shilling piece and the stud remained the property of the company until it was sold in April 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Review Pty Ltd, The Pastoral Homes of Australia—N.S.W. (Melb, 1910)
  • E. J. Brady, Australia Unlimited (Melb, 1918)
  • New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Assn, The Australian Merino (Syd, 1955)
  • R. B. Ronald, The Riverina: People and Properties (Melb, 1960)
  • New South Wales Government Gazette 1879 (1), 1883 (3)
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Oct 1907, 16 June 1916
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 May 1916
  • Australasian, 3 June 1916.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Mills, Charles (1832–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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