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William Ian MacDonald (1890–1937)

One of those killed in the seaplane disaster at Brindisi was Major Ian Macdonald, aged 45, of Wantabadgery East (out from Junee and Wagga), and an occasional visitor to Cootamundra, particularly, to the soldiers' gatherings, where he was esteemed. The family resided mostly at Falcon Manor, Towcester, England and the old historic estate out here on the Murrumbidgee, taken up by the first of the generation of Macdonalds there in 1879, is managed for him by Mr. H. Le Soueff Thomas.

The Major and his sister, Mrs. A. T. Ritchie, of Malaya, joined the Butler Transport Co.'s mail plane at Cootamundra on 25th November, and were in Cootamundra previously chatting here and there, never dreaming of the fate in store. Mrs. Ritchie had remarked that she would have preferred the boat trip home, instead of being rushed by air. Major Macdonald's son, a student at Eton, aged 17, came to Australia with them this time, and wanted the air passage back, but the father booked him by boat instead.

Mrs. Ritchie suffered a broken collarbone.

Mr. Robert Lutyens, on arrival at Rome from Brindisi gave the first account of the crash by those rescued from the Cygnus. He said he was sitting in the smoking room talking. The wind was just enough to stir the flag. "We had gone about 200 yards, when our heads went up, and I felt an unusual first lift," he said. "Then, instead of feeling the second lift, the machine bounced onto the water, and was thrown up. It bounced for about 30 or 40 feet and the water came in immediately. Before realising it, I was fighting to reach air, and it was with great relief that I came to the surface. There were only three feet from the water to the top of the cabin. Fortunately, the hatchery was open, and I scrambled out, and swam to a motor launch which was coming towards me."

Mr. Lutyens, who witnessed the rescue work from the Imperial Air Ways tender, said that he had no words to describe the bravery of the Cygnus's crew. "The second officer, Mountain," he added, "dived three times to open the top of a hatch over the main compartment, and then he dived again to rescue Mrs. Ritchie, who had been swimming about seeking her brother.''

News of the tragic death of Major Macdonald came, as a shock to the numerous friends of the family.

Major William Ian Falconer Macdonald was born at "Cliveden", Melbourne, in 1890. He was a son of the late Falconer-Macdonald of Wantabadgery and a grandson of the late Chessborbugh-Macdonald, a native of Scotland, who arrived in Australia and took up a tract of country known as The Auburn station, near Chincilla, Queensland, in the late '60s. When The Auburn Station was sold, the late Falconer Macdonald purchased Wantabadgery, in conjunction with his brother Claude, and a Mr. Dangar, from the Windeyer family in 1879. The Macdonald brothers later purchased Mr. Dangar's interests and they carried on pastoral operations as partners until 1914. When the estate was divided, the late Claude Macdonald taking that part now known as Wantabadery West, and Falconer retained the homestead half, which was subsequently renamed Wantabadgery East.

When first acquired by the Macdonalds, Wantabadgery comprised about 43,000 acres, but at the time of the dissolution of partnership, in 1914, the area had been reduced approximately by 36,000 acres. Wantabadgery East comprises some 18,000 acres freehold, and is recognised as being one of the best stations in New South Wales. Merino sheep are reared on the property, and the fleeces have frequently topped the market, and are always high up. A brood mare stud has been established, and in 1933 a registered Polled Hereford stud was started.

The late Falconer Macdonald, whose death occurred in England in 1919, in his 70th year, was one of the best known squatters in the State, and ranked among the early pastoral pioneers. He married Alice Blanche, eldest daughter of the late Sir William Clarke, and by the marriage there were two sons and one daughter. The elder son, Lieutenant Keith Macdonald, was killed it the battle of Loos during September, 1915. The daughter is the wife of Captain T.A. Ritchie, game warden in the Malay Station, and formerly game warden at Kenya, Africa.

Major Macdonald terminated his scholastic career at New College, Oxford, and was an Oxford "blue", gaining that distinction from hurdling. He was a very fine type of athlete, a keen huntsman, having his own hunters at Towcester, a good polo player and a fine type of cricketer. In 1914 he went to France as a Lieutenant in the Leicestershire Yeomanry, and in 1927, with the rank of captain, transferred to the 16th (Queen's Own) Lancers. Later he was gazetted with the rank of major. In 1918, he married Barbara, daughter of the late F. A. Crisp, of "The Manor House," Godalming, Surrey, England, who survives him with their only child, Keith Ian ("Kim") Macdonald, aged 17, who is at present in Sydney.

Major Macdonald, his son, and Mrs Ritche, had been at Wantabadgery East for a month. They had planned to spend two or three months but Major Macdonald was advised of his mother's illness in England. The brother and sister decided to fly to England in order to reach their mother quickly, and the son was booked by boat via the Malay States. They left Cootamundra on November 26, and were due to have reached London yesterday. When Mr "Kim" Macdonald was acquainted with the news he cancelled his passage via the Malay States and will now travel direct to Naples, from where he will take the plane to England.

Upon the death of his father, Major Macdonald inherited Wantabadgery East, and he continued to improve it, and make it a show place. Only recently he completed the building of a beautiful new homestead on the property. He was fond of gardening, and had a nice garden laid out.

Mr. Le Souef Thomas, who has managed the property for 33 years, said the news had come as a terrible shock to all the employees. "He was a wonderful man," said Mr. Thomas. He was a fine sport and was the most generous employer one could wish to have. Only last year he was the means of saving my life when he insisted upon my undergoing an operation. All his men swore by him, and he endeared himself to everyone with whom he came in contact".

Major Macdonald also maintained his home in England, but his visits to Wantabadgery East were frequent. Mrs. Macdonald lived in England, but also visited Wantabadgery occasionally, and is a very charming and gracious lady.

A nephew, Mr. Hamish Macdonald, is now controlling Wantabadgery West. The original Wantabadgery Station had its romantic associations with early Australian bushranging, when the late Claude and Falconer Macdonald, on Saturday, November 15, 1879, together with the others in the homestead, were "stuck up" by a party of six bushrangers, the lead of which was the notorious Captain Moonlite. On the following Monday the bushrangers staged their fierce though unsuccessful, fight at the property of H. McGlede, "Rosedale," Wantabadgery, and two were shot dead, three were captured, and later the sixth was found concealed beneath a bed. The captured outlaws were taken to Gundagai, and thence brought by Cobb and Co.'s coach to Cootamundra. Old Cootamundraians will recall the transfer from the coach to the prison van. There were the subsequent hangings in Sydney.

Original publication

Citation details

'MacDonald, William Ian (1890–1937)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Falconar MacDonald, William Ian

6 November, 1890
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


5 December, 1937 (aged 47)
Brindisi, Italy

Cause of Death

air crash

Cultural Heritage

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Military Service