Benjamin Wickham Macdonald (1853-1920) was born in Elgin, Scotland, beginning work at the age of 19 in a ship building firm in Glasgow before moving to India to join Mackinnon, Mackenzie and Co. managing agents for the British India Steam Navigation Co. (BISN), part of the global empire of James Mackay, later Lord Inchcape.
For health reasons he moved to Brisbane in 1884 to join the Queensland Steam Shipping Co., and subsequently, the British India and Queensland Agency Co (BIQA) before becoming employed by the Australasian United Steam Navigation Co (AUSN), recently formed by BISN associates. In 1900, the visit to Australia of James Mackay resulted in the reorganization of AUSN and Macdonald’s appointment as general manager.
In 1902 he was the leading negotiator in the foundation of the “Collins Pool” an all embracing agreement between Australia’s major coastal shipping companies, designed to stabilise freight rates and ensure the viability of shipping companies. This produced a major turnaround in the fortunes of AUSN and its substantial shipping operations. When, in 1915, Lord Inchcape restructured his Australian operations, Macdonald Hamilton was established to manage the shipping agency business of AUSN and others. Macdonald was both partner in and leader of Macdonald Hamilton. Among his other professional interests Macdonald was Chairman of Blackheath Collieries Ltd and Lymington Collieries Ltd as well as serving as the Russian Consul for Queensland.
Such was his standing in the nation’s shipping industry that he was known as the Napoleon of Australian Shipping and was regarded as more than a match for other Australian shipping leaders. Contributing to his reputation was his leading role in ending Australia’s shipping wars; his leadership of AUSN which was one of Australia’s dominant shipping companies and Queensland’s largest, his outstanding commercial acumen, all reinforced by Lord Inchcape’s recognition of BW Macdonald in the naming of his Australian agency Macdonald, Hamilton and Co., the only such concession in Lord Inchcape’s global empire. His stature was such that AUSN and Macdonald Hamilton, against national trends, were headquartered in Brisbane in Naldham House.
He was a hard working resolute leader, notably defying the Queensland Government’s demand to hire union labour to break the waterfront strike in 1917. Yet he was a man with the common touch and possessed a strong commitment to the community.