McDonald, James Benjamin Dr

Date of Birth/Death:


Little is known about Dr McDonald – he was born c1813 in Ireland but the place is unknown. He had a cousin, Catherine Barnes (nee Brennan) who emigrated to Adelaide with her husband William Austin Barnes on the Coromandel in January 1837. His wife Emma was formerly Carmichael, but it is unknown where or when they married, and if they had children. Nor is it known where he obtained his medical qualifications or when exactly he arrived in South Australia. He is not mentioned in the early South Australian medical registrations although the registration of doctors did not occur in that colony until 1844. While his name is not included on the 1841 Census (taken in January 1841) for South Australia for District C (in which Willunga was located), J B McDonald, MD, was a signatory with others of a published letter to Governor Gawler in March 1841 thus confirming his residency in the colony.

By September 1843 he was living in Willunga, exhibiting dairy cattle in competition with Edward Loud. Dr McDonald stated that both Loud’s and his cows had been selected from the same herd that had belonged to Mr Evelyn Sturt, brother of Captain Charles Sturt, and came from the Port Phillip District in Victoria. After the exhibition, the men dined at the Old Bush Inn. Later in 1849 it was reported several cows from ‘the celebrated herds of Dr McDonald’ were offered for sale, suggesting he was well-known for the quality of his stock.

Earlier, in May 1844, Dr McDonald supported the establishment of horse racing with the event, known as the Southern Races, held near Willunga. The Bush Inn catered. Amongst those who supported the Southern Races was Edward Loud. An advertisement appeared in the press requesting the ‘attendance of gentlemen interested in this old English sport’ to meet at the Bush Inn on 22 April 1845. But it was resolved that the race meet was to take place near Noarlunga rather than Willunga. Reasons for this change of venue were not given. It is unclear if Dr McDonald remained involved with the Southern Races, but he was a judge at the newly formed Willunga races held 6 March 1850 approximately a mile (1.6 kilometres) from the township.

In February 1845, Dr McDonald reported on the use of the Ridley stripper and thresher, stating that in seven weeks ‘upwards of two hundred and sixteen acres of wheat in the most creditable manner at a cost of about five pence per bushel’ was harvested. South Australian immigrant John Ridley has been credited with inventing the stripper and thresher machine to hasten the harvesting of wheat crops. An early press report mentioned the machine needed only two men in attendance, two horses to push, and it cost ten shillings per acre. Allegedly it was capable of harvesting nearly an acre in an hour. McDonald too charged ten shillings per acre for the use of the machine. There is a suggestion Ridley had links in the early 1840s with property later known as Landcross Farm at McLaren Vale. Perhaps the machinery was sourced from there.

The following month he was a signatory to a petition to Governor Robe protesting the impending removal of the Police Station from Willunga which it was believed would cause:

“… considerable disadvantage to the Settlers generally south of Willunga as well as to themselves there being no other Station between this and Cape Jervis on the one Hand & Encounter Bay on the other and where the present Officer is frequently called to do duty (also the distance is more than 30 Miles) …”.

A copy of this document with his signature is on display in the National Trust Courthouse Museum in Willunga.

In 1848 he purchased a portion of Section 257 Hundred of Willunga, and erected a home with a frontage adjacent to St Andrew’s Terrace. This house, known as ‘Prospect Villa’, was located overlooking the Willunga township at the top of what became known as Doctor’s Hill, later Sara’s Hill. It was described as comfortable, of English architecture, and having a slate verandah. The house no longer exists.

In October 1850, Dr McDonald advertised money lending for sums ranging from five pounds to five hundred pounds, revealing his diverse business interests. He was also a trustee of the newly formed Willunga Land and Building Society, along with an R Atkinson. In March 1851, he was one of several electors of Noarlunga and Willunga who supported Major O’Halloran as a Legislative Council representative.

At a Public Meeting held at the Bush Inn in February 1852, he was a memorialist with others yet again protesting the removal of police from Willunga. Mr Loud stated:

“That it is the opinion of this meeting that the withdrawal of the police from this district at this particular period, when so many of the male population are leaving their homes and their families to go to the gold fields, is an injudicious and dangerous measure, and one which ought to be immediately rescinded, by replacing at their respective stations at least the same number of men as before.”

This was seconded by Dr Jay who had by then arrived in Willunga. It was resolved and seconded by Dr McDonald that a:

“… memorial be prepared for presentation to his Excellency, praying for the restoration of police protection, as a right to which the inhabitants of the Hundred are entitled, not only in consideration of the importance of the district, but in respect of their claims as British Subjects …”.

In the same month, Dr McDonald identified bones as ‘those of a male native’ that were uncovered during an excavation to expand Mr Bassett’s residence in Willunga. Later, in October he was amongst others who protested changes to the colony’s Constitution.

However, by August 1853 he advertised he was leaving the colony for reasons not given. On 30 January 1854 he engaged Messrs Duval and Bagot as his Powers of Attorney to sell his property as he had by then returned to Ireland. George Sara a local builder purchased the property – hence Doctor’s Hill later became known as Sara’s Hill. The name Doctor’s Hill was retained for a few years as on 26 September 1859 it was reported that:

“Messrs. Kell, Atkinson, and Martin were requested to superintend the completion of the cutting through Doctor’s Hill in order to give employment to labourers out of work, and also to execute any other repairs they may deem necessary for the same purpose, and to report the same at next meeting”.

On 1 May 1878 Dr McDonald died at his house named ‘Willunga’ at Blackrock, County of Dublin, Ireland age sixty-five years and was buried at the Deansgrange Cemetery, Dublin. Naming his house ‘Willunga’ may have reflected the high esteem that he held Willunga in South Australia and of his time there. His wife Emma died 1 April 1883 and was buried with him.


Willunga National Trust Branch, Willunga Doctors, Folder 42:9.

Willunga National Trust Branch, Willunga District Doctors 1841-1909

1841 ‘ADDRESS TO GOVERNOR GAWLER, PRESENTED MARCH 23, 1841.’, Southern Australian, 23 March, p. 1.,

1843 ‘WILLUNGA.’, Adelaide Observer  16 September, p. 5. ,

1844 ‘LOCAL AND PROVINCIAL INTELLIGENCE.’, Adelaide Observer , 18 May, p. 4. ,

1845 ‘LABOUR MARKET—CORN GROWING—RIDLEY’S MACHINES.’, South Australian Register , 22 February, p. 2. ,

1845 ‘DEPARTURE OF THE “YARE” FOR LONDON.’ [‘Dr McDonald’s Testimony to the Efficiency of Ridley’s Reaping Machines’], South Australian Register, 22 February, p. 3. ,

1849 ‘Advertising’, Adelaide Times, 27 December, p. 1. ,

1850 ‘THE WILLUNGA RACES.’, Adelaide Observer, 9 March, p. 2. ,

1850 ‘Advertising’, South Australian Register, 11 October, p. 4. ,

1850 ‘Advertising’, South Australian Register, 16 October, p. 2. ,

1852 ‘ADVANTAGES OF THE MURRAY NAVIGATION.’ [‘Discovery of Human Remains at Willunga’], South Australian Register, 19 February, p. 3. ,

1852 ‘PUBLIC MEETING AT WILLUNGA.’, South Australian Register, 23 February, p. 3. ,

1853 ‘Advertising’, South Australian Register, 27 August, p. 2. ,

Signature of Dr James B McDonald, Memorial (Petition) from Willunga District Residents on 18 April 1846 Objecting to the Closure of the Willunga Police Station, GRG 535/5, (National Trust Courthouse Museum, Willunga).

Extracts from SA General Registry Office (GRO) Information

Deansgrange Cemetery, Dublin, Ireland, (Findmypast)



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