image of Sir Samuel McCaughey
Sir Samuel McCaughey

The Sir Samuel McCaughey (1835-1919) bequest was the earliest large donation to the University of Queensland, larger than the better known Mayne bequest of the 1920s and 1930s. Sir Samuel was pastoralist and philanthropist, born in County Antrim, Ireland, eldest son of a farmer and merchant. After formal schooling he learnt accounting and office management in his father’s linen business and also worked on the farm. He decided to try his luck in Australia in 1856, working as a station hand near Horsham in Victoria. In 1860 his relatives backed his purchase of a third share of Coonong, a pastoral property in the Riverina; in 1864 he became sole owner. McCaughey improved Coonong, and purchased two more properties, giving him control of 55,443 hectares of prime grazing land by the early 1870s. He founded an excellent stud, purchasing sheep from many areas in Australia and the USA, dramatically increasing the weight in wool. He also continued to improve his properties, through irrigation, fencing and mechanical inventions to improve ploughing and shearing. His properties continued to increase in number and by the 1880s he owned or shared twelve properties in New South Wales and three in Queensland totalling 1,315,242 hectares.

He lived in grand style, first at Coonong and then at North Yanco. Although McCaughey had no strong political ideology he was always an advocate for rural development and large-scale irrigation. In 1899 he was appointed to the NSW legislative Council to help secure the passage of the Federation enabling Bill. Strongly influenced by his strict Presbyterian upbringing he became a great philanthropist. Sir Samuel never married and when he died on 25 July 1919 his £1,600,130 estate (the equivalent economic power in 2013 is $880 million) was divided into many bequests. The investment income from half of the residue of his estate was divided between the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland. Sir Samuel’s instructions in his will were that “such income to be applied to such purposes as the respective Senates of the said Universities may from time to time determine.” The University of Queensland received the income from £200,000 (equivalent to $16.23 million today), which in 1920 was around £7,500 a year (equivalent to $2.62 million today). As a result of the bequest, Senate resolved to endow Chairs in History, English and Biology.

The University decided to endow two initial Chairs from the McCaughey Trust Fund: in History and Economic Science; and English Language and Literature. In 1931, after a bequest from John Darnell, the McCaughey Chair in English Language and Literature was renamed the Darnell Chair in English. Unfortunately, in the 1930s Depression years the McCaughey Trust Fund income found its way into the University General Funds. A 1962 note on UQ Trust Funds says that this transfer was done “in a desperate effort to meet University obligations and the practice has been followed ever since; but it is conjectural whether the Benefactor intended his benefaction to be utilised in this way.” The Bursar added that “Some thought might be given to this matter at an opportune time.” This never came.

Only five individuals have been appointed to the McCaughey Chair in History. Henry Alcock, the foundation lecturer in History, received the initial appointment in 1922 as Professor of History and Economic Science. When Economics separated from History, Alcock became the first Professor of Modern History until his death in 1947. He was followed by Gordon Greenwood (1948-1978), McCaughey Professor of History and Political Science (until Political Science separated from History in 1952) and then McCaughey Professor of History. The McCaughey Chair in History passed to British historian Malcolm Thomis (author of A Place of Light and Learning: The University of Queensland’s first seventy-five years) in 1978 who held the title until he retired in 1995. It then passed to medievalist John Moorhead who held the McCaughey Chair in History until he retired in 2010. The university was slow to reappoint, breaking the chain of appointments until Clive Moore, historian of Australia and the Pacific, was appointed as the fifth McCaughey Chair in History in 2013, continuing the tradition of the oldest named Chair at The University of Queensland. Professor Megan Cassidy-Welch was named the sixth McCaughey Chair in History in 2020, the first woman to hold the Chair.

Professor of History and Head of School


image of Clive Moore, FAHA

2013 - : Clive Moore, FAHA
Professor of History (Australian and Pacific History)

image of John Moorhead

1995 - 2010: John Moorhead
Professor of History (Medieval History)
[Source: University of Queensland Archives]

image of Malcolm Thomis

1978 - 1995: Malcolm Thomis
Professor of History (British History)
[Source: University of Queensland Archives]

image of Gordon Greenwood

1948 - 1978: Gordon Greenwood (1913-1986)
[Source: University of Queensland Archives]

image of Henry Alcock

1922 - 1947: Henry Alcock (1886-1947)
[Source: University of Queensland Archives]