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MacDermott, Marshall (1791–1877)

from South Australian Advertiser

On Saturday morning, November 3, Mr. Marshall MacDermott, J.P., an old and prominent colonist of South Australia, died at his residence in Adelaide at the ripe age of 86 years. For some time past his health had been very frail, and his decease therefore, although widely lamented, will not occasion surprise. There are few men whose lot it has been to pass through such a chequered and useful career as Mr. MacDermott. He was full of enterprise, and his public conduct had for its high incentive a sincere regard for the advancement and general wellbeing of the colony. It was so far back as 1846 that Mr. MacDermott first arrived on these shores, but his career in Australia dated from a still earlier period. Originally he served as a commissioned officer in the army, which he entered at a very early age, and after seeing a great deal of service abroad, extending over a period of upwards of 22 years, he sold out and emigrated to Western Australia, where he arrived in June, 1830. He was accompanied by his then newly-married wife and two officers of the Rifle Brigade, and they sailed in a ship they had purchased specially for the enterprise, carrying the framework of their houses with them. The colony had only been founded the year previous, and great difficulty was encountered before the party got finally settled on the Swan River about nine miles from Perth. The country beyond the Williams River was a terra incognita, and indeed it was only at this time that the river itself was discovered by an exploring party, of which Mr. MacDermott was a member. When the colony had increased so that the deficiency of a circulating medium was severely felt, and few transactions could take place except by means of barter, Mr. MacDermott proposed a scheme for the formation of a local Bank, which was carried into effect, and he was appointed to the management. They depended on the Commissariat issues for the Government expenditure for supplies of coin, and the necessary nominal capital being subscribed they supplemented the currency by issuing their notes. The benefits which the public derived from this became manifest immediately, and the Bank was so successful that the shareholders for some time divided profits of 40 per cent, on their nominal capital, or, in other words, on the credit of their names simply. After five years had elapsed, during which time the Bank rapidly prospered and the public were largely convenienced, the Bank of Australasia proposed an amalgamation, which was finally agreed to, and the management of the new bank was conferred on Mr. MacDermott. But after an experience of similar duration the Bank of Australasia came to the conclusion that their business in Western Australia was too limited to justify the maintenance of an isolated branch at Perth, and accordingly it was closed and Mr. MacDermott was given the management of their branch at Adelaide. Previous to his departure he received a flattering address, signed by all the members of the Executive Council and the principal residents of the place, testifying to his zeal in promoting objects of public utility. In April, 1846, he arrived with his family in Adelaide. The Bank of Australasia at that time was situated in Hindley-street, but shortly afterwards the principal part of the present handsome edifice in King William-street was erected. An interesting circumstance connected with this period is worth mentioning. The present site of the Bank — about 90 feet square — was purchased in exchange for 640 acres of country land, and to avoid the difficulty of proving the signatures of a corporate body frequently changing, the mode of conveyance chosen for the country land was that which obtained under the old feudal system of "livery of seizin." Mr. MacDermott went upon the land, pulled a twig off a tree, and using a few formal words presented it to the purchaser in the presence of witnesses. This transaction being recorded and registered conferred an indefeasible title in law. Adelaide, as may be imagined, was in a very primitive condition at this stage of its existence. No superior school had been established for the education of boys, and the deceased, who always had the cause of education at heart, devoted all his spare time towards the attainment of that object. He secured the co-operation of a Committee of gentlemen, and the result was that a proprietary grammar school on Church of England principles was formed, open to all denominations. This was opened in the schoolroom connected with Trinity Church. Not long after accomplishing this object he was instrumental in getting the school munificently endowed by various colonists and others, and it was then incorporated by Act of Parliament as 'The Church of England Collegiate School of St. Peter,' after which the present extensive and handsome buildings were erected. In religious matters Mr. MacDermott also took a prominent part. When, for example, the Church of England here was in a disorganized state he drew up a scheme for the establishment of a Diocesan Synod, so as to bring the clergy and laity into closer union. After the proposal had occupied the attention of Churchmen for a considerable time, and the Lord Bishop had paid a visit to England and ascertained the legality of the proposed course, the Synod was finally inaugurated by a consensual compact, as it was called, and proved eminently successful. In his business capacity as a banker Mr. MacDermott was considerate and liberal in his treatment of his customers. In fact his liberality during times of great depression, although not leading to any losses, caused a difference of opinion between himself and the Board of Directors in London, which resulted in his accepting compensation and retiring from the service.

Some time afterwards Mr. MacDermott embarked in a mercantile venture, but it not proving very successful after a trial of a few years he retired from the firm. He then offered himself in 1855 as a candidate to represent the District of Willunga in the Legislative Council, but was defeated. The Governor, Sir Richard MacDonnell, however, immediately offered to nominate him to a seat without binding him to any course of action he might disapprove of; and Mr. MacDermott, accepting his offer, took his seat in the Council. In the following November he was elected by the members to the position of Chairman of Committees; and on the dissolution of that mixed Council (elective and nominated) he was returned to represent the District of Flinders in the Assembly. In 1857 he offered himself as a candidate for the Speakership, but was unsuccessful; but in the following September he became Commissioner of Crown Lands in the short-lived Torrens Ministry, which was succeeded by the Administration of the late Sir Richard Hanson. In 1859 he was appointed as a Special Magistrate under the Local Courts Act, first to preside in the Courts at Willunga and Morphett Vale, and afterwards at Redruth, Clare, Auburn, and Riverton. For upwards of 10 years he continued to perform these magisterial duties, and on the amalgamation of two districts he retired, receiving the usual retiring allowance. The deceased gentleman leaves a widow and three daughters surviving— Mrs. S. Tomkinson, Mrs. R. I. Stow (wife of Judge Stow), and Mrs. Knight (formerly the wife of Mr. John Taylor, of Rylands). The late Mrs. Francis Dutton was also a daughter of Mr. MacDermott's. His remains will be removed from his late residence in Hutt-street this afternoon at 3 o'clock and conveyed to Christchurch, where a special service will be held, and thence the cortege will proceed to the North-road Cemetery.

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'MacDermott, Marshall (1791–1877)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 January 2018.

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