William McMillan (Australian politician)

Sir William McMillan KCMG (14 November 1850 – 21 December 1926) was an Australian businessman and politician. He was a member of the first federal parliament and served as deputy leader of the Free Trade Party under George Reid, but served only a single term before resigning. He had earlier served in the Parliament of New South Wales, including as Colonial Treasurer, and was prominent in the movement for Federation. He was born in Ireland and became a successful businessman in Australia after moving to Sydney at the age of 18.

Sir William McMillan

William McMillan - Johnstone O'Shannessy (cropped).jpg
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Wentworth
In office
29 March 1901 – 23 November 1903
Preceded byNew seat
Succeeded byWillie Kelly
Personal details
Born(1850-11-14)14 November 1850
Derry, Ireland
Died21 December 1926(1926-12-21) (aged 76)
Bellevue Hill, New South Wales
NationalityIrish Australian
Political partyFree Trade Party
Spouse(s)1) Ada Charlotte Graham (divorced 1891)
2) Helen Maria O'Reilly

Early lifeEdit

McMillan was born in Derry, Ireland, he was the fourth child and third son of Rev. Gibson McMillan, a Methodist minister. William lived in Westport and Ballina, both in County Mayo, Ireland until the age of six. In 1856, his father was assigned to the Methodist church in Abbey Street, Dublin, and McMillan began his formal education. Along with his older brothers, John and Charles, he attended boarding school at Wesley College in St. Stephens Green. The following year, the family moved to Dún Laoghaire where his father was assigned to the Adelaide Road Methodist church, and McMillan continued attending Wesley. Due to family financial difficulties at the time, McMillan had to abandon any intention to attend university in Dublin; rather, in 1864 he began studies at Tulse Hill School in London. He left Tulse Hill in 1866 and entered the employment of his uncle, Alexander McArthur.[1]

Commercial activitiesEdit

He travelled to Sydney in 1869[2] to develop a branch of W. & A. McArthur, Ltd., wholesale merchants and importers of York Street, Sydney.[3] He worked at the company's Melbourne branch before returning to Sydney as resident partner in 1876. He later became chairman and managing director of Metropolitan Coal Company Limited and a director the Australian branches of Westinghouse Air Brake Company Limited and Phoenix Assurance Company Limited. He was the president of Sydney Chamber of Commerce in 1886.[4]

Colonial politicsEdit

In 1887, McMillan was elected as the member for East Sydney in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for the Free Trade Party, and held the seat until its abolition in 1894. He was Colonial Treasurer from March 1889 to July 1891 in Sir Henry Parkes fifth Free Trade Government, and was a delegate to the 1890 conference on the federation of Australia and the 1891 National Australasian Convention. In 1894 he was elected as the member for Burwood, a position he held until 1898. He chaired the finance committee of the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention.[4][5]

Federal politicsEdit

In 1901, he was elected to federal parliament as the first member for the seat of Wentworth and was elected deputy leader of the Free Trade Party under George Reid. In August 1903, McMillan acted as Leader of Opposition following Reid's resignation from parliament and eventual re-election at the 1903 East Sydney by-election. He retired at the 1903 election to look after his business interests.[4] Upon hearing of McMillan's retirement, Reid stated "I hope whatever the circumstances may be that have led him to come to the determination, that they will be only of a temporary nature, and that the public will not permanently lose the benefit of his great abilities and capacity for public affairs".[6] His political opponent Alfred Deakin recalled him as a "thoughtful, educated businessman, narrow and cold after the manner of the Manchester School … business-like in manner and incisive in debate".[4]

McMillan stood unsuccessfully for the state seat of Willoughby in 1913.[4]

Personal lifeEdit

McMillan later in life

In 1878 McMillan married Ada Charlotte Graham, aged 16, and they had two daughters and two sons.[4][5]

McMillan was divorced in 1891. He married Helen Maria O'Reilly (died 1937)[7] in 1892 and they had two daughters. He died in 1926 at his house Althorne in the Sydney suburb of Bellevue Hill.[4] His children included:

  • Sister Elizabeth McMillan, founder of Tresillian Training Centre in Petersham was an authority on child welfare.[8] She married Lieut. Dudley Percy Davidson, R.N. on 9 November 1929.
  • Constance McMillan married Ernest Owen, son of Colonel Percy Owen, on 20 September 1910.
  • Helen Rosamond "Bobbie" McMillan was an actress with the Emélie Polini troupe. She married Frank Harvey on 3 April 1924.
  • Jocelyn McMillan married H. P. Gunnar on 24 March 1921. Gunnar was associated with the Medical School, Northwestern University, Chicago.[9] Their son Rolf McMillan Gunnar (1926–2017) was a noted cardiologist.


In the New Year Honours list on 1 January 1901, McMillan was created Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, "in recognition of services in connection with the Federation of Australian Colonies and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia".[10]


  1. ^ Peter M. Gunnar (1995). Good Iron Mac: The Life of Australian Federation Father Sir William McMillan, K.C.M.G. Federation Press. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-1-86287-176-2.
  2. ^ Mennell, Philip (1892). "McMillan, William" . The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co – via Wikisource.
  3. ^ "Sir W. McMillan Dead". The Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of New South Wales. New South Wales, Australia. 25 December 1926. p. 9. Retrieved 19 June 2020 – via Trove.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Martin, A. W. (1986). "McMillan, Sir William (1850–1926)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  5. ^ a b "Sir William McMillan (1850–1926)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  6. ^ "Sir William McMillan". The Burrangong Argus. 15 August 1903.
  7. ^ "Obituary". The Sydney Morning Herald. New South Wales, Australia. 2 November 1937. p. 8. Retrieved 20 June 2020 – via Trove.
  8. ^ "Dismissed". The Sun (Sydney). New South Wales, Australia. 23 February 1923. p. 7. Retrieved 20 June 2020 – via Trove.
  9. ^ "What Women Are Wearing". The Sydney Mail. New South Wales, Australia. 8 June 1921. p. 23. Retrieved 20 June 2020 – via Trove.
  10. ^ "No. 27261". The London Gazette. 1 January 1901. p. 1.

Further readingEdit

  • Gunnar, Peter M. (1995). Good Iron Mac: The Life of Australian Federation Father Sir William McMillan, K.C.M.G. Federation Press. ISBN 1862871760.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit

New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Edmund Barton
Member for East Sydney
Served alongside: Burdekin/Barton, Reid, Street/Bradley/Parkes
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New seat
Member for Burwood
Succeeded by
William Archer
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
New seat
Member for Wentworth
Succeeded by
Willie Kelly
Party political offices
Preceded by
New title
Deputy Leader of the Free Trade Party
Succeeded by
Dugald Thomson