Story: McGeorge, Alexander Crow

Page 1 - Biography

McGeorge, Alexander Crow

1868–1953

Engineer, gold-dredging entrepreneur

This biography was written by T. J. Hearn and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Alexander Crow McGeorge was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 4 August 1868, during the Otago goldrush; he was to become a major figure in the gold-dredging boom some 30 years later. One of four children of James McGeorge, a carter, and his wife, Isabella Crow, Alec left school at 14. His first job was on the cash desk of drapers Kirkpatrick, Glendining and Company, but in 1884 he took up an engineering apprenticeship with the firm of Cossens and Black. The boom of 1889–90 saw McGeorge join R. S. Sparrow and Company, which won many of the contracts to supply dredging and gold-saving machinery.

On the collapse of the boom, McGeorge worked briefly at Gardner and Company at Port Chalmers before moving to Melbourne and a position with the Otis Elevator Company. Within a few months he was at Williamstown, engaged in refitting the steamer Bancoora. It was at that time he resigned from the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, thereafter remaining opposed to trade unionism. By May 1892 he had returned to Dunedin. After experience as a member of a partnership which placed a leased gold dredge on Deep Stream, and as engineer for the Andersons Bay Ferry and Baths Company, in mid 1893 McGeorge was appointed engineer on a dredge working on the Clutha River near Clyde. He later held the same position on the newly constructed Chicago, owned by the Alexandra Dredging Company. In 1899 this partnership, in which McGeorge and his two brothers secured a share, became the successful Chicago Gold Dredging Company. McGeorge and his brothers also secured an interest in the highly successful Manuherikia Gold-dredging Company, which operated a current-wheeler on the Clutha River just below Alexandra.

In 1894 McGeorge resigned from his position on the Chicago, returned to Dunedin, and formed a new partnership to work the Electric and Magnetic claims on the Kawarau River. The Electric Gold Dredging Company, with McGeorge as secretary and treasurer, was formed in February 1895. Its first dredge was launched in August 1895, eventually and successfully working Cornish Beach just below Cromwell. While acting as dredgemaster on No 1, McGeorge supervised the construction of a second dredge, which enjoyed immediate success on commencing work in July 1897; it repaid its construction cost in just 10 weeks. The company's third, and most famous, machine was launched by the governor, Lord Ranfurly, in 1898 and was named the Lady Ranfurly. In July 1902 it was to set a record of 1,234 ounces for a week's dredging. Such was the partnership's success that in 1899 its properties were divided and floated as the Junction Electric and the Electric Gold-dredging Companies. McGeorge remained managing director of both until January 1900, and director of both until their liquidation in 1907 and 1918 respectively. Not all of McGeorge's dredging ventures were so successful, but the returns won by the original partnership were instrumental in fomenting the gold-dredging boom that gripped Dunedin and Otago from 1896 to 1900, and which inspired a short-lived economic recovery in the province.

Alexander McGeorge married Ethel Agnes Aldred at Allanton on 31 January 1899. The bride's wedding ring was crafted from the first gold won by McGeorge's dredges. The couple raised five daughters and three sons. They moved to Dunedin in 1900 to settle in their new large brick residence, Kawarau, at Highgate. McGeorge was also pursuing a new venture. During 1899 he and his brothers had secured an option over 550 acres of low-lying land in the Waikaka Valley; on what became known as the McGeorge Brothers' Freehold, they placed three dredges, work continuing until 1926. McGeorge Brothers Limited, a private company comprising the three brothers and their wives, recovered over 58,000 ounces of gold. They also raised, drained, and resoiled the land, having adapted and refined an innovative method for separating soil and tailings.

A man of wide interests, McGeorge was associated with the Otago Motor Association (formed in 1905) and the later Otago Motor Club; from 1916 he was actively involved in signposting roads, work for which he was widely recognised and praised. McGeorge was also involved in the Royal Dunedin Male Choir, the Roslyn Lawn Tennis Club (he was a foundation member), and the University Club, of which he was one of the most energetic committee members. He participated for some 25 years in what he termed a 'morning tea party', a small informal discussion group of prominent Dunedin business leaders. Alexander McGeorge died at Karitane on 14 January 1953; Ethel had died in 1937.