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George J. Macdonald George J. Macdonald i(A2864 works by) (a.k.a. George James Macdonald; G. James Macdonald; G. J. Macdonald)
Also writes as: G. J. M. ; G. Z. M. ; G. J. McD ; 'Ione'
Born: Established: 12 May 1805 Holborn, London,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,
; Died: Ceased: 21 Dec 1851 Swan Hill - Robinvale area, North West Victoria, Victoria,
Gender: Male
Arrived in Australia: 1826
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George James Macdonald was the eldest son of Major James Macdonald, a British Army officer, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Owens). He was educated at Blundell's School, Tiverton, Devon, where he gained an education in the classics, literature and music. Shipping records suggest that he arrived in New South Wales in December 1826.

From the historical material, it appears that Macdonald spent most of his life in Australia employed in Government service. In the years 1828-1830 he held a clerical position at the Commissariat at Port Macquarie (then a penal colony). Significantly, for part of this period, he was attached to the outlying agricultural establishment, where he became familiar with the Aboriginal people of the region, who took him for an incarnation of 'Bangar', one of their number who had been killed some time previously. As a result, Macdonald was able to learn a good deal of their language and customs, and for some years afterwards he professed an affection and sympathy for Aboriginal people (eg. see his poem 'A Dream of Life'). Notably, whilst at Port Macquarie, Macdonald also had a liaison with an Aboriginal woman named 'Maria', with whom he had a daughter, who died soon after birth. Macdonald was recalled to Sydney in December 1830, and in subsequent years he briefly held a clerical position at the Female Factory (prison), at Parramatta. He then appears to have made a visit to England, before returning to Sydney in April 1835. In 1839, Macdonald was appointed Crown Lands Commissioner for the New England district, and he subsequently established his headquarters at Armidale, which he named after the Macdonald ancestral home on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. In 1847, he was appointed Crown Lands Commissioner for the Lower Darling district, a position which he held at the time of his death.

Short in stature, with a hump on his lower back, Macdonald emerges as an intriguing figure. From all accounts, by the later 1830s, he had developed quite a reputation within the colony for his literary and musical accomplishments, and contemporary observers appear to have been impressed by his refined, genial manner - though he was not without eccentricities, and it is claimed that at one point he fought a duel with a rival suitor. However, as Crown Lands Commissioner, Macdonald remains a contentious and contradictory figure. More recently, historians have criticised him for failing to exercise his duty of care towards the Aboriginal people of the New England district, who by the later 1830s were being driven from their lands by the newly arrived squatters. In particular he has been singled out for his indifference, and even complicity in the revenge attacks and indiscriminate killing of Aborigines by Europeans which occurred at this time, and for his failure to keep colonial authorities informed of the true state of affairs. It has also been suggested that by the mid 1840s, Macdonald was plagued by alcoholism, and that he became increasingly unable to perform his duties.

According to the report of his death which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January, 1852 (p.3), Macdonald appears to have died at Alexander McCallum's Youngera station, near Swan Hill, in December 1851, whilst travelling to Melbourne. The location of his grave remains unknown.

Most Referenced Works


  • In addition to his creative works, Macdonald also wrote two brief accounts of his experiences among the Aboriginal people of Port Macquarie region, which were published in the Colonist : 'Recollections of a Visit to the Kebarrah', the Colonist, 3 November, 1838 (p. 4); 'The Death of Yamma-Gil-Git', the Colonist, 8 December, 1838 (p. 4).
  • For further background on Macdonald, and his controversial period as Crown Lands Commissioner of the New England district, see Baal Belbora (1981), by Geoffrey Blomfield; Colonial Armidale (1999), by John Ferry; The Commissioner and the Squatter) (2009), by Lionel Gilbert. Gilbert also provides fascinating information on what he has termed the 'Wener-Eliott Album', a scrap-book held in a private collection, which contains clippings of poems by Macdonald, along with manuscript versions of other poems in Macdonald's handwriting, which are dated, signed, or initialled. Notably, Gilbert's research indicates that Macdonald was the author 'Ione'.
Last amended 4 Dec 2013 10:30:17
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