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John Hunter Baillie (1818–1854)

The subject of this obituary notice was the 6th and youngest son of Mr James Baillie, a small proprietor or portioner (as such persons are called) in the town of Hamilton, in Scotland, where Mr Baillie was born on 29 July, 1818. His father having died when he was very young, and his oldest brother having a flourishing school, of a very superior character, in his native town, in which he had generally upwards of two hundred pupils, Mr Baillie received a thorough English and commercial education in that school, together with a competent knowledge of the Latin language and on this good foundation, combined with an ardent thirst for knowledge in every department, and an indomitable perseverance in the pursuit of self-improvement, was based Mr. Baillie's subsequent success in life. For while engaged as he was for a short time in public tuition himself, he pursued with great interest, the study of geology and mineralogy, making extensive pedestrian excursions principally in the great coal field of Scotland; for a description of one of the sections of which he was honoured with the silver medal of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, in the year 1839.

Being in delicate health and desiring a more favourable field for exertion than Scotland promised him, Mr. Baillie emigrated to New South Wales, as a mere friendless adventurer, but still full of hope and full of energy in the year 1841; arriving in Sydney in the month of September of that year. The vessel in which he came out had had a long passage, and there were some cases of fever on her arrival, which caused her to be sent for a week or 2 to the Quarantine Station. During this period of detention, Mr Baillie wrote a letter to the Rev Dr Lang, whom he knew only by report at the time, explaining his object in coming out to the colony, detailing his previous pursuits and occupations, and requesting any information or advice that might forward his views. Dr Lane was at once struck with the high caste of mind, and a great commend of language, the correct principles, and the hopeful spirit which Mr Baillie's letter exhibited; and being on the eve of establishing a weekly journal in Sydney at the time, for the general advancement of the colony, offered Mr Baillie the situation of sub-editor, with the general management of the business concerns of the paper, at a salary of £150 per annum, and to reside in Dr Lang's family. Mr Baillie accepted this situation, which he held, with great ability and general acceptance, for upwards of 2 years. Having in the meantime obtained an appointment of a different kind, he married Miss Helen Mackie, a younger sister of Mrs Lang's, and took up house for himself on 1 January 1844. The friendship which was thus formed between Mr Baillie and Dr Lane continued uninterrupted, without one harsh word ever having been spoken on either side, notwithstanding occasional differences of opinion, until the hour of Mr Baillie's death.

During Mr Bailey's connection with the Colonial Observer, an incident, occurred which was both characteristic and amusing. Shortly after the establishment of the paper, Archbishop Polding, who had just arrived from Rome with full powers from the Pope, and perhaps expected to annihilate heresy all at once, announced a series of Sunday Evening Lectures on Protestantism. This was a bill of fare sufficiently attractive to fill any theatre, and it succeeded accordingly. As the Observer had been established in the interests Protestantism, it was deemed expedient to get hold of the Archbishops lectures for the purpose of dissection; but as the presence of an ordinary reporter might have awakened suspicion, and been otherwise disliked, Mr. Baillie, who was quite a stranger in the colony at the time and but little known, attended lectures himself; and having a remarkably retentive memory and a strong attachment to the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, he wrote an abstract of the lectures on his return home, to which Dr Lang added a suitable critique or comment for the next Wednesday's paper. In this way the Archbishop's "lame arguments and impudent conclusions" were immediately exposed, to his own great surprise and mortification; for finding the Lectures on Protestantism "no go", the course was abruptly brought to a close, and has never been resumed.

The next situation which Mr Baillie obtained was that of secretary to the Sydney District Council, towards the close of the year 1843. But as the Legislative Council refused to pass the Bill which the government introduced into session of 1844, to give effect to these institutions the appointment proved one of but short duration. The great ability however, which Mr Baillie had exhibited in conducting the general business of the District Council having procured him friends and introductions, he was engaged by Mr Holt on the 1st 1 January 1845 to wind up the very complicated affairs of the house of Cooper and Levi, of Sydney, and the masterly manner in which he accomplished this task, to the great advantage as well as satisfaction of those concerned, procured him a similar appointment for the old Bank of New South Wales, of the state and concerns of which he was employed to draw up a report for the year 1846.

Mr. Baillie discharged the duties of this new appointment so entirely to the satisfaction of his employers, and placed the fortunes and prospects of the establishment in so much more favourable a light than that in which they had been previously regarded, that the office of the Assistant Secretary was created expressly for him in the month of February, 1847, and when it was afterwards determined, in the year of 1952 merge the old establishment in an entirely new institution, on a broader basis, and one better adapted to the necessities of the times and the advanced state of the colony, he was entrusted with all the complicated arrangements for the accomplishment of that important object, in which he succeeded to the great satisfaction of all concerned, obtaining from all quarters the highest testimonies of approbation, for the great ability that he exhibited throughout. He was appointed Secretary in October of that year.

From the establishment of the new bank, the course of the institution, although one of frequent anxiety to those concerned, has been one of uninterrupted prosperity; and for that prosperity, as well as for the high position which it now holds in the Colony, it is universally admitted, that it is indebted in great measure to the transcendent ability, superior tact, and indomitable energy of Mr Baillie. Not fewer than eight flourishing branches were successively established in this and the neighbouring Colony of Victoria, principally at his instance and under his inspection, while a branch has been established in England, and the agencies formed in India and China. In the year 1852, Mr Baillie was appointed, in addition to the office of Secretary, which he retained until his death, Inspector of the Colonial Branches of the Bank. In this situation, he acquired the confidence and esteem of a large proportion of the influential members of the community; and the general respect and admiration that was entertained for his eminent talents as a master-mind in matters of finance, were only enhanced by the confidence and esteem which were called forth in all quarters by his unflinching integrity and moral worth.

Mr. Baillie had been thoroughly acquainted, from his earliest childhood, with the Holy Scriptures, and was strongly attached, but without the slightest tincture of bigotry, to the grand doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. And it was doubtless, to this source and to the Scriptural principles he had thus imbibed, that he was mainly indebted for the expansion of his intellect, his decision of character, and his blameless life. Mr Baillie was a Presbyterian, and was strongly opposed to all connection between Church and State.

Mr. Baillie had been in a very delicate state of health for eight or ten years past, and his active and energetic mind seemed to consume the frail tenement in which it was lodged, "as the keen edge of the Persian scimitar," to use the beautiful simile of the Arabian poet, "eats through its scabbard." He had an attack of haemorrhage, brought on by a cold, about a year after his arrival in the colony, and at intervals thereafter these attacks recurred, generally from some exciting cause, either external or internal. His last and fatal attack, from which he never recovered, supervened about 10 days before his death, which took place on Saturday the 25th instant. His last audible words were to express himself " deeply grateful" for the attentions of his friend and relative, Dr Lang, and to express the pleasure which he felt in having read to him the 14th and 17th chapters of the Gospel according to St John.

Mr. Baillie has left Messrs D. Cooper and T. Buckland in conjunction with his widow, his Trustees; Mrs Baillie being life rented in all his property, with the exception of a legacy to her unmarried sister. At Mrs Baillie's decease all his property whatsoever is to be devoted towards the endowment of a Professorship of the English Language and literature, and a Professorship of the Oriental and Polynesian Languages in any College in connection with the Presyterian Church.

Original publication

Citation details

'Hunter Baillie, John (1818–1854)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 July, 1818
Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland


25 March, 1854 (aged 35)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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