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Hugh Victor McKay

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Hugh Victor McKay (1865-1926)

Hugh Victor McKay (H. V. McKay) CBE, (1865-1926) of H. V. McKay was an Australian inventor of the Sunshine Harvester and industrialist.

1865 August 21st. McKay was born the fifth child of a family of twelve near Drummartin, between Elmore and Raywood, Victoria. His parents were protestant immigrants from Monaghan, Ireland and arrived in Victoria in 1852. His father, Nathaniel McKay had been a stonemason and then a miner, before becoming a farmer around the end of 1845.

Hugh attended Drummartin Primary School, and received some education from his father Nathaniel, before returning to the farm at 13.

In 1883 he read about Californian Combine harvester. With his brother John and his father he built a prototype stripper-harvester by January 1885 and patented the Sunshine Harvester on 24 March 1885, which revolutionised wheat harvesting and sold throughout the world.

Although he lost a Victorian Government prize for the first working stripper-harvester to James Morrow in 1885, he successfully commercialised his invention, and had them built under contract in Melbourne and Bendigo.

In 1888, he opened a working factory in Ballarat.

In 1891 he married Sarah Irene Graves.

He later acquired the Braybrook Implement Works, and renamed it the Sunshine Harvester Works after his Sunshine Harvester.

1907 The residents of Braybrook Junction voted to rename the suburb Sunshine. The plant was expanded rapidly and at its peak employed nearly 3,000 workers. It was the largest factory in Australia and as an example of entrepreneurship has probably not been surpassed in Australia.

In 1909 the Sunshine Gardens were developed to provide an amenity for the employees of the Sunshine Harvester Works. Designed by the assistant city engineer at Ballarat, F. A. Horsfall and laid out by head gardener S. G. Thompson, the eight-acre Gardens were sited alongside the factory and incorporated recreation facilities and popular horticultural displays. The Gardens included tennis courts and pavilion, a bandstand, a bowling green, a substantial house for the head gardener, a conservatory and associated works areas. Under inaugural curator Thompson (1909-27), and curators James Willan (1930-39) and Harold Gray (1939-50), the Gardens developed a reputation for its chrysanthemums and dahlias, attracting workers and their families, as well as other local residents.

In 1953, the management of Sunshine Gardens was handed to the newly established City of Sunshine. At this time, it was renamed the H.V. McKay Memorial Gardens.

In the 1990s, the garden was listed by the National Trust of Australia and in the Register of the National Estate.

In 2007 the Friends of McKay Gardens was formed to help maintain the gardens.

A dispute between McKay and the unions representing the Sunshine workers was heard before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in Melbourne between 7 October 1907 and 8 November 1907. H. B. Higgins heard evidence from employees and their wives. In the Harvester Judgement, he obliged McKay to pay his employees a wage that guaranteed them a standard of living which was reasonable for "a human being in a civilised community", regardless of his capacity to pay. McKay successfully appealed this judgement, but it became the basis of the basic wage, which dominated Australian economic life for the next 60 to 80 years.

1926 May 21st. McKay died at Rupertswood, a mansion in Sunbury, Victoria (notable as the birthplace of the Ashes) and was survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons. His will was valued at £1,448,146; a codicil vested the income from 100,000 shares in the H. V. McKay Charitable Trust, chaired by George Swinburne. The trust's aims are to improve country life and aid charity in Sunshine.

He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919.

1927 Obituary [1]

HUGH VICTOR McKay, C.B.E., died on May 21, 1926. The death of Mr. McKay has closed a career which deserves a place in the list of business romances. A man of extraordinary tenacity of purpose and a keen disciplinarian, yet scrupulously just, Mr. McKay built up by energy, strength of character, and business acumen, the largest agricultural implement making concern in the Southern Hemisphere. The Sunshine Harvester Works at Sunshine stand as a striking monument to his enterprise.

A son of Nathaniel McKay, one of the hardy pioneers who came to Australia in the early '50's, and settled at Kamarooka. Hugh Victor McKay was born at Raywood on August 21, 1865, and was educated at the State school at Drummartin and by private tuition. His early years were spent on the land, for which he seemed to have a special aptitude, and as he developed into young manhood he became expert in all branches of farm work, and earned credit in the district for his efficiency as a ploughman.

In 1883, when aged 18 years, he assumed the full control of his father's farm, with successful results. Of an inventive turn of mind, he set about devising some more efficient means of working a farm successfully, and about this time first conceived the idea of combining the stripper and winnower into a single moving machine, which would take the ears from the standing crop and thresh, winnow, and clean the grain in one continuous operation. Setting to work, he constructed his first machine in the following year. It must have been a strange-looking harvester, for it was made from old parts of other farm implements, the cog wheels from an ancient English mower, and a number of kerosene tins. However, it worked, and from this idea he developed the great industry of the Sunshine Harvester Works. Through lack of capital, it was at first impossible to build a factory, but in 1887 Mr. McKay obtained a Government premium for the best combined harvesting machine, and with this encouragement he established his workshop at Ballarat in 1888. The first Sunshine harvesters were exported to South America in 1902, where the machine became very popular because of its simplicity and adaptability to the conditions of grain harvesting in that country. Subsequently the demand for Sunshine machines outgrew the accommodation at the Ballarat works, and made a transfer to a more spacious site essential.

In 1904 the work of transferring the H. V. McKay workshops from Ballarat to Sunshine, where they now stand, commenced. It was not finished until three years later. As a result of the growth of the Sunshine Harvester Works the town of Sunshine was established, and its population is now in the neighbourhood of 4000. The land was parcelled out by Mr. McKay, and large numbers of his employees were assisted to build their homes in the areas surrounding the factory.

Mr. McKay undertook the work of road-making, water reticulation, and electric lighting and, as the subdivisions provided for allotments with 50-ft. frontages, the opportunity for the tradesmen to build comfortable homes near to their work was largely availed of. At present the Sunshine Harvester Works, including timber-yards, cover 40 acres, on which there are no fewer than 28 acres of buildings, with modern plant for the manufacture of farm implements.

For years Mr. McKay was a vice-president of the Chamber of Manufactures, a position which he resigned only on account of his recent visit to England. He showed his interest in the welfare of the workers by making possible the erection of a technical school at Sunshine, which was opened in July 1913. During the war Mr. McKay turned his works over to the manufacture of munitions, and manufactured in quick time large numbers of transport waggons, ambulance waggons, aeroplane waggons, water-carts, "Maltese" carts, and portable kitchens, also many thousands of entrenching tools, military horseshoes, stirrup-irons, wire-cutters, and similar materials. Besides being the proprietor of the Sunshine Harvester Works, Mr. McKay was one of the directors of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, Ltd., and the London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Company. He was a member of the Business Board of Administration for the Defence Department in 1917-18, and the first president of the Stores Disposal Board in London in 1919. For his services he was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire.

Mr. McKay was elected a Member of the Institute of Metals on March 8, 1921.

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