The History of MMI

“Samuel McCaughey”, Patricia McCaughey, 1955 Ure Smith Pty Ltd
Brochure “The McCaughey Memorial Institute” published by the Institute for the official opening 19 November 1960
“The Return to Coree”, Murray T Pheils, 1998 Allen & Unwin

The McCaughey Memorial Institute’s fascinating history is interwoven into the history of the McCaughey family, the development of the pastoral industry in Australia and in particular, the family’s ownership of the property “Coree Station” in south-western NSW.

The Family's Irish Heritage

The McCaughey family originated in Tullyneuh, Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Island. A farming family, Francis and Eliza McCaughey (nee Wilson) had three sons and seven daughters and also ran a successful linen merchant business. The three McCaughey boys – Samuel (later Sir Samuel), John and David all emigrated to Australia (click here to see the family tree of Francis and Eliza McCaughey). They were no doubt influenced by the success of their Wilson uncles, Charles, Alexander, John and Samuel – Charles and Alexander Wilson emigrated to Australia in 1838/39; John Wilson in 1841 and Samuel Wilson in 1852.

The Wilson brothers were well educated, skilful farmers with business acumen partly gained from their brother-in-law Francis McCaughey. The brothers accumulated in partnership or individually very significant landholdings across Eastern Australia, including Vectis Station, Kewell Station, Polkemmet Station, Longerenong Station, Walmer Station, Woodlands Station, Trawalla Station, Ercildoune Station, all in Victoria, and Yanko Station, Toorale Station and Dunlop Station in NSW.

Samuel McCaughey emigrates to Australia

The young Samuel McCaughey emigrated to Australia in 1856 at the age of 20. Samuel travelled to Melbourne, Australia with his uncle Charles Wilson who had returned to Northern Ireland for a visit to his family.  Samuel didn’t linger in Melbourne long. He set off with an Irish colleague who emigrated at the same time, and walked to Horsham (186 miles) to his Uncle Charles property Walmer Station.  On the walk they visited properties owned by Charles brother Samuel, including Longerenong Station. The young Samuel McCaughey quickly learned about the farming environment in Australia and developed high level management skills including how to get the best out of people and the farm improvements needed to improve productivity.

Coonong becomes the first of many property acquisitions

In 1860, young Samuel made his first move into property ownership, purchasing a third share in Coonong (a NSW Riverina region property close to the town Urana), along with his cousin David Wilson and another partner. Samuel saw the potential of the property for pasture improvement, irrigation and sheep grazing and by 1864 he bought out the other two owners. By 1872 he had purchased adjacent properties Singorimbah and Goolgumbla, and integrated the holdings. Coonong quickly became a very successful, recognised sheep stud property and was to be Samuels home until he purchased North Yanco in 1899. Such was Samuel’s success that his two younger brothers, John and David also emigrated to Australia to play a part in his agricultural pursuits.One of the most successful steps in Samuel McCaughey’s career came in 1880 when his uncle, now Sir Samuel Wilson (he was knighted and appointed to the Legislative Council of Victoria in 1875) decided to return to live in England and sold a number of his holdings to Samuel, including the huge leasehold properties Toorale and Dunlop on the Darling River with a combined area of around 2,500,000 acres.  Samuel also acquired an additional NSW Darling River property Fort Bourke, Nariah, a property north of Barellan NSW and Queensland properties Rockwood, Barenya and Bonus Downs.

The McCaughey Brothers purchase Coree Station

Samuel’s purchase of Coree Station in 1881 with his brothers John and David was an important link to what would later become the McCaughey Memorial Institute.

The brothers purchased Coree Station from the Wilson arm of the family, who had purchased an adjoining property Tongaboo and added it to Coree, taking it to around 220,000 acres. John and David were also partners with Samuel in Toorale and Dunlop Stations on the Darling River and Rockwood Station in Queensland.

Samuel’s contribution to Australian Agriculture and Philanthropy

Samuel McCaughey was one of the greatest forces in the development of the pastoral industry and irrigation in Australia. Sheep breeding, wool production and processing and machinery invention were three of his great passions. He experimented with different strains of the merino breed and his wide spread of properties allowed him to produce merino types best suited to the various environments. He imported Vermont merino rams from California at one stage and bred very heavy wool producing crosses that won numerous prizes. However the Vermont influence produced excessive skin wrinkling that was not well suited to the hot Australian climate. Thereafter, he concentrated on the Peppin merino strain with great success.

Samuel was one of the first pastoralists to investigate and utilise artesian bore water on his western NSW and Queensland leases. He also invented specialist types of machinery for deep soil tillage, earthmoving for channel and dam construction and was the first pastoralist in Australia to introduce shearing of sheep by machine operated hand-pieces. He was also the first pastoralist to scour his own wool in a plant he designed and constructed at Coonong.

While Samuel introduced irrigation on his Coonong property and his western NSW leasehold property Toorale, it was after his purchase of North Yanco in 1899 that he made his most important contribution to irrigation in NSW. His work in demonstrating the huge benefits from reticulating water for pasture and food production was largely responsible for the NSW Government constructing Burrinjuck Reservoir and developing the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. He built a magnificent homestead at North Yanco surrounded by an abundant garden – the homestead today is the headquarters of Yanco Agricultural High School.

Samuel had no ambition to be a politician but was asked by the NSW Premier to consider becoming a member of the recently expanded NSW Legislative Council.  His friendship with the Premier led him to accept and he was sworn in on the 11th April 1899. Hansard records indicate that he provided very valuable and practical advice to the Parliament, particularly on matters connected to the land. In June 1905 a knighthood was conferred on the Hon. Samuel McCaughey, M.L.C. in recognition of his work for the wool industry in Australia and of his many philanthropic and patriotic gifts.

Samuel was always a benevolent and generous man. He never married and had no offspring but he looked after his family and the large number of people who worked for him extremely well. His hard work and business acumen made him a wealthy man who became well known for the philanthropy that was referred to in his knighthood.

Samuel commenced selling his vast property portfolio in 1911 and by the time of his death on 25th July 1919, he did not own a single acre of land. He supported many causes during his life, from assisting workers who had served him well acquire their own properties, to providing financial support to the families of soldiers who served in war. At the time of his death, Sir Samuel McCaughey was Australia’s greatest benefactor, making significant bequests in his will to universities, churches, schools and hospitals. His estate distributed around $1 billion (2017 value basis) to these organisations which has probably not been exceeded in Australia today as a one-off contribution by an individual.

Coree - the transition to the McCaughey Memorial Institute

David was a relatively young man (50) when illness caused his untimely death in February 1899. After David’s death, Samuel McCaughey was again involved in operating Coree as one of David’s Trustees. The other Trustees were David’s other brother, John and his brother-in-law Alfred Gell, who managed the property for many years. In 1910 and 1911 parts of the southern portion of the property, including the Tongaboo portion were sold, leaving Coree at around 65,000 acres.

David’s eldest son, Samuel (Sam), purchased Coree in 1919, while the younger son, Roy purchased Coonong.

Sam was born at Coree and was only seven when his father died. His mother and the four children moved to Melbourne and Sam visited Coree during school holiday periods. After he finished his schooling in Melbourne and Cambridge, England, it was planned that Sam would move to Coree to learn property management and sheep husbandry. However he had little time to gain experience before going back to England to enlist for service in World War 1. He was a Commissioned Officer who served with the 46th Battery, 1st Division, in France. Sam married in 1917 while he was still a serving soldier and he and wife Una had four daughters (Unity, Patricia, Anne and Sally) and one son, Samuel Michael, known as Michael. As mentioned above, Sam purchased Coree on his return to Australia after the war in 1919.

Sam was an ambitious but inexperienced pastoralist and after an unsuccessful property investment in Western Australia, drought, the economic downturn caused by the global depression and ill-health, Sam retired from active control of the property in 1931 and his family moved to France and later to England. Coree was then formed into a company known as Coree Pastoral Company Propriety Limited and Sam’s younger brother, Roy, became Governing Director. As stated above, Roy was the owner of Coonong, having purchased the property from Sir Samuel McCaughey in 1919, just one month prior to Sir Samuels’s death.

Better seasons returned not long after Roy took as Governing Director of Coree and the property and its finances improved markedly. Sam’s son Michael returned to Australia in 1936 to attend Geelong Grammar School and he spent time at Coree during holiday periods. It was hoped that Michael might eventually take over ownership of the property.

However, this was not to occur as Michael enlisted in 1940 to serve in the Second World War. He trained in Australia and quickly rose through the ranks from Trooper, to Corporal, to Sergeant and was then commissioned as a Lieutenant. Lieutenant Michael McCaughey was posted to the 2/16 Australian Infantry Battalion and sent to New Guinea in September 1943 as part of the force to take on the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail.

In November 1943, the Platoon led by Lieutenant McCaughey was part of an assault on Shaggy Ridge where the enemy had an entrenched position. After a torrid battle all enemy positions were captured except for a knoll on the highest point of the ridge. Lieutenant McCaughey led his Platoon to this point and after a grim struggle, captured the position. Unfortunately Michael was killed in action on 29 December 1943 by a remaining sniper’s bullet after the knoll was captured. The knoll was subsequently named McCaughey’s Knoll.  A cousin of Michael’s, Sergeant David Macpherson, R.A.A.F., was also killed in action during the war in an operational mission against the enemy in Northern Australia. Both men were nephews of Sir Samuel McCaughey and David McCaughey.

The tragedy of losing two family members during the war inspired Roy McCaughey and his brother Samuel (Sam) to take steps to set up an agricultural institute at Coree as a memorial to Lieutenant Samuel Michael McCaughey and Sergeant David Leslie Macpherson.

The McCaughey Memorial Institute is established

Old Coree Homestead - 2018

The McCaughey Memorial Institute was established in June 1945 by the donation of an area of 24,000 acres of Coree (which became known as Old Coree) by The Coree Pastoral Company Propriety Limited and a gift of £1,000 from Roy McCaughey.

When the property was donated, it consisted solely of the land and buildings and for some years it was leased back to the Coree Pastoral Company Propriety Limited. The money derived from this was later used to purchase livestock for the Institute until it became fully stocked with its own sheep and cattle in 1953.Since then, it has been run as a going concern with the income derived being used for improvements to the property and for research and education.

When the Institute was first established in 1945, a Trust was set up for its administration. The objectives of the Trust were …”the promotion, encouragement and advancement of education in the state of NSW in manner hereinafter mentioned as a memorial to the following members of the McCaughey family….”. The Trust Deed goes on to mention the fields of agricultural education and research to be particularly focussed on including:

  • to conduct research into the problems of both dryland and irrigated pastures,
  • to demonstrate the most modern methods of agricultural management and production
  • to act as an education and research centre for the development and advancement of irrigation
  • to utilise the Institute as a training ground for young people interested in the pastoral and farming industries

More details about the Trust can be found here.

The initial Trustees were Mr Frank Young (Chairman), Sir Henry Manning and Mr D Roy McCaughey (after the land transfer was completed).

Details of the current Trustees can be found here.

Research Collaborators

The University of Sydney and CSIRO became important partners with the Institute from around the late 1950’s.They identified with the objectives of the Institute and agreed to set up research teams at Old Coree. They also assisted in management of the Institute with the Senate of the University of Sydney consenting in 1959 to the appointment of the Vice Chancellor as a Trustee. This arrangement continues today with the current Vice Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, being a Trustee.

Collaborating research teams utilised the field and laboratory facilities at the Institute to carry out leading edge research in many areas, including animal nutrition; sheep fertility and artificial insemination; sheep flock performance; the links between management practices and animal productivity; grazing intake studies and the breeding of improved crop and pasture species.

In addition to supporting the work of The University of Sydney and CSIRO, the Institute has collaborated with many other institutions, organisations and individuals, including the NSW Department of Primary Industries, AgriFutures Australia, Rice Research Australia Pty Ltd, SunRice, NSW Environment and Heritage, the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and many others.

Laboratory R & D at Old Coree (1960s)

Special Collaboration with the Riverina Rice Industry

Rice Breeding Trials Old Coree (2014)

The Institute entered into a special collaboration with the Riverina Rice Industry in 1989 in response to the importance of the industry to Riverina farm businesses and the industries strong commitment to research and development that was well aligned to the Institutes Trust Dead.

The soils, climate, water supply and the facilities at Old Coree made it an ideal hub for rice research, development and education. Rice Research Australia Pty Ltd (RRAPL), the R & D subsidiary of rice food manufacturer and marketer, SunRice, took out a long term lease to carry out rice R & D. The arrangement has been very successful for both parties – for RRAPL, new rice varieties are developed in collaboration with NSW DPI, agronomic and plant protection R & D is carried out and best management practices are continually developed. In addition, SunRice’s pure rice seed operates from Old Coree and the property is able to showcase Australian rice growers’ world leading production efficiency and product quality to SunRice’s global and domestic customer base. The rice industry carries out a large number of technology transfer events for rice growers at Old Coree, including the annual rice field day, farm walks and industry meetings.

For the Institute, the partnership with the rice industry continues the vision the McCaughey family had in establishing an R & D Institute to honour the memory of Lieutenant Samuel Michael McCaughey and Sergeant David Leslie Macpherson and at the same time facilitate R & D to benefit the agriculture sector and their communities.

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