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‘Napoleon of shipping’ named Queensland business icon

31st July 2015

A Scottish migrant who played a key role in developing the shipping industry in Australia has been inducted into the 2015 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame.

Benjamin Wickham Macdonald, who arrived in Brisbane in 1884, was responsible for leading one of the most dominant fleets of steam ships in Australia from Queensland waters, a crucial development in the economic expansion of the state.

Now in its seventh year, the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame is a joint initiative between QUT Business School, State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Library Foundation. It celebrates those organisations and individuals who have enhanced the state's reputation and economy.

Mr Macdonald and five other Queensland business leaders from past and present were inducted into the Hall of Fame by The Honourable Quentin Bryce AD CVO during a black-tie gala event at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre last night (THURSDAY JULY 30).

After joining the shipping industry in Scotland aged 19, Mr Macdonald rose through the ranks and was transferred to Australia, where, as general manager of the Australasian United Steam Navigation company, he helped oversee a ground-breaking reform of shipping agency operations.

In 1902, he was the leading negotiator in the foundation of the "Collins Pool" the first all-embracing agreement between Australia's major coastal shipping companies, designed to stabilise freight rates and ensure the viability of companies.

Mr Macdonald became a partner in Macdonald Hamilton, then headquartered at Brisbane's historic Naldham House and the Australian headquarters for some of the world's major shipping lines in the 19th century.

Ben Macdonald AM, the grandson of Benjamin Wickham Macdonald, who also served Macdonald Hamilton as managing director, said his grandfather had helped Queensland realise its trade and export potential.

"I think he'd like to be remembered as someone who influenced the early development of Queensland's economy, for example opening up areas like Rockhampton for trade of wool and cattle or Townsville for minerals. All that started because ships went into the ports and could take the cargo interstate and overseas," he said.

"He was the most prominent figure in shipping circles on the Australian coast and was regarded as the king of the interstate shipping trade. His obituary said he was called the Napoleon of shipping because he 'bestrode the Australian shipping scene like a colossus'."

QUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Little said shipping was critical to the development of Queensland.

"Having connections between ports in Queensland and interstate and overseas to effectively move and trade commodities was a game-changer for the state's economy that would not have been possible without the work of Benjamin Wickham Macdonald," he said.

State Librarian Janette Wright said the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame ensured the businesses and individuals who had played vital roles in the state's business landscape would be recognised and remembered.

The Hall of Fame space resides within State Library of Queensland, while the digital story collection is available online at

The inductees into the 2015 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame are:

•Benjamin Wickham Macdonald
•Blue Care
•Ellen O'Brien and Defiance Flour
•Hyne Timber
•Sir Lawrence Wackett
•The Courier-Mail

TWITTER: Follow #qldhof

Media contact:
Rob Kidd, QUT Media, 07 3138 1841,
After hours, Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901

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