Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Jean Primrose Whyte




Alexander Macully was a Professor of Elocution, an Anglican priest, a poet, and, for a short time, a bankrupt.1 He was renowned in his time as a great interpreter of Shakespeare. The mansions built for him still stand: ‘Cullymont’ in Canterbury, Victoria, and ‘Dunluce’ in Brighton, South Australia. He was an interesting old codger, worthy of memory. Here his story is told using his obituary from the Adelaide Observer as a framework.2

Rev. Alexander Macully, M.A., LL.B.

The death occurred on Saturday of the Rev. Alexander Macully, M.A., LL.B., at his residence, Dunluce, Brighton, at the age of 74 years. Mr. Macully was widely known.

He was born in the cathedral city of Armagh, Ireland.

Alexander Macully claimed to have been born in Armagh, Ireland, in 1847. His father, noted in many documents, was G. John James Macully (sometimes without the initial G). His mother’s name is never mentioned. This omission drew me initially to find out more about Alexander Macully: I am working on the biography of his granddaughter, Jean Primrose Whyte, foundation professor in the Monash University Graduate School of Librarianship, and, having taken notes on her family history, found that Macully’s mother was not named in family records, nor anywhere else. I began looking for, but was unable to trace, Macully’s birth record. He may have been born in Ireland, but, as his obituaries are selective in the material they use – perhaps because Macully was likewise selective – and his Irish connections important to him, I wondered whether the Irish birthplace may have been a romantic fabrication. This concern led eventually to the discovery of early newspaper articles which referred to Macully being ‘an Australian native’, who, after studying in Ireland, returned to Australia ‘the land of his birth’.3

When he was a child his parents emigrated to Melbourne, and there his father occupied an important position in the Civil Service for about 35 years.

John James had a civil-service career and was wealthy. A poster for the auction of ‘Cullymont’ at 2 Molesworth Street, Canterbury:

‘Cullymont’ was built as two adjoining residences as a ‘Country Retreat’ for John James McCully and his son Reverend Alexander McCully. Built in 1889, it was first occupied by them in 1890, and bears the McCully coat of arms with the clan motto ‘Vi et Animo’ (by strength and courage) … possibly Victoria’s largest semi-detached pair of mansion houses … listed by the National Trust … ‘Cullymont’ features intricately detailed stained glass roundels in the sidelights and transom of the front door depicting Shakespearian characters, reflecting the younger McCully’s love of, and considerable talent for the theatre … one of the finest grand family residences.4

Cullymont remains an impressive building, with the family’s coat of arms mounted on the eastern wall of the house. The name ‘Cullymont’ begins with ‘Cully’ from Macully, perhaps ‘mont’ is from ‘Rosemont’, Alexander’s wife’s family home.

He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, and distinguished himself in English literature, and obtained the first prize in elocution. He played cricket well, and occupied a place in the college eleven. Desiring to read for holy orders, he entered the famous Irish University, Trinity College, Dublin, and gained honours and took the degrees of M.A. and LL.B. During his college course he gained a host of friends, and was acknowledged as the first interpreter of literature, particularly Shakespeare, in Dublin. He gave several recitals in the hall of Trinity College, at the request of the Provost and Fellows. Edward Dowden, LL.D., Professor of English Literature, spoke of Mr. Macully in the following terms:- ‘His naturally fine gifts of voice and expression were united with the gains which come from careful study. His rendering of the Hamlet scene was highly dramatic without ever over-stepping, I thought, the limits of right taste. Without attempting detailed criticism, I may sum up my impression by stating that Mr. Macully’s second recital gave me an assurance of his remarkable power as a reader and reciter, and I believe made by appreciation of the portion of Shakespeare he rendered more full and accurate’.

He became one of Australia’s most accomplished reciters of classic English literature, especially of Shakespeare: ‘Mr. McCully is known amongst our literati as one of the ablest and most refined interpreters of our English classics’.5 Macully composed and published poetry and wrote The art of reading, which was published in 1887.6

In 1880, at Meath, Mr. Macully was ordained deacon by the Most Rev. Lord Plunket, of Meath, afterwards Archbishop of Dublin, and admitted to the order of priest by the Right Rev. William Alexander, Bishop of Derry, who was subsequently Primate of all Ireland [Church of Ireland, in the Anglican communion]. During his residence in Ireland he married a daughter of the Hon. Alexander Campbell, of Rosemont, Sydney.

‘A daughter of the Hon. Alexander Campbell’. She was Maria (Minnie) Julia Campbell. Her father was the Honourable Alexander Campbell, MLC, JP, born in Scotland, who sailed to Sydney ‘to seek his fortune’. He found it. He became a director, and, several times, the Chairman, of the Sydney Stock Exchange and a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society; he founded the Mercantile Bank of Sydney, was manager of Agra and Masterman’s Bank, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and had various pastoral interests. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales and later of the Legislative Council, Postmaster-General and associate of Sir Henry Parkes. Campbell ‘was prepared to give the working classes such liberties as did not affect the revenue. He was a vital member of Sydney’s mercantile world and a shrewd businessman whose main concern both in private and in public was the advancement of the colony’s commerce and trade’.7 Like the Macullys, the Campbells were wealthy – from surviving photographs it is difficult to pick out the grandest mansion: the Campbells’ ‘Rosemont’ in Sydney (which later became the home of Sir Charles and Lady Lloyd Jones), ‘Cullymont’ or Alexander and Minnie’s ‘Dunluce’ in Adelaide.

The marriage of Minnie Campbell to Alexander Macully took place in Armagh and is described in a newspaper clipping headed ‘Fashionable wedding in Armagh’.8 Macully, who made a financial arrangement with his prospective father-in-law prior to the marriage, received an ample dowry.9 Macully, at the time of his marriage, was Rector of Muff, County Donegal.

For some years Mr. Macully took up the role of teaching in the colleges.

Macully combined his careers of elocution teacher and priest, sometimes doing one, most of the time both. He taught the Culture of the Speaking Voice and the Art of Reading at Trinity College and later in studios in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, teaching privately and in classes. He gave recitals in Ireland and in Australia and later was to lecture in poetry at various South Australian Institutes.

He was known as ‘Professor Macully’ from the time when, early in his career, he taught ‘Elocution and Aesthetics of English Literature’ at two ladies’ colleges in Dublin – Alexandra College and the Rutland Square Institute. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of The Society of Science, Letters, and Art in London in 1885.

In 1897 [sic] he returned to his work as a clergyman. In 1885 he was a curate at Bendigo, Victoria. During a brief sojourn in the Diocese of Brisbane, he built one of the most beautiful of its churches, at Clayfield, a suburb of the Queensland capital.

A small omission from the obituary is that for about three years (1888–1891?) he left the Anglicans to minister at the Unitarian Church, East Melbourne. There his ‘aspirations toward religious freedom were not supported by any very strong convictions … he was only an enquirer in theological matters, and hence was not enthusiastically followed as a leader … Within a year a very serious falling off in attendance was manifested and before the term of his engagement was completed the congregation was fast approaching vanishing point’.10

While he was in Brisbane Macully also taught elocution and (another omission) was bankrupted. The insolvency case11 is surprising, given the wealth of both Minnie and Alexander’s families. It appears that Macully was caught up in the 1890s depression, having built ‘Cullymont’, living well and having bought land for his father to begin a nursery business; but his father could not repay him. Why did Macully need to lend money to his wealthy father? Why did his father-in-law not bail him out? Perhaps other family or friends were also caught up in the depression.

After his return to Adelaide he acted as assistant priest at Hindmarsh and Bowden, also priest in charge of Penola, and assistant priest at the Semaphore. From 1905 until 1908 he was in charge of St. Jude’s, Brighton.

I am unsure of the phrase ‘his return to Adelaide’, as this appears to be his first move there, although there were many moves, and Adelaide is given as an earlier address for his wife.

His final position was as the incumbent at St Jude’s, Brighton, South Australia, built with funds donated by local people, in 1855, but not consecrated until over a century later, in 1977, because £100 was owed to the builders!12 He continued to teach elocution and to lecture at the South Australian Institutes.

Minnie and Alexander Macully built a grand home in Brighton in 1912, named ‘Dunluce’, as it was modelled on a wing of the Northern Irish castle ‘Dunluce’. In the history of Brighton Dunluce is referred to as a castle with 12 acres of land, coach house and stables. It is still a handsome building. Bankruptcy was evidently short-lived.

Mrs. Macully is well known for her kindness and practical sympathy. She has always evinced an ardent interest in parish work. The family comprises three daughters – Misses Eileen and Norah Macully and Mrs E.P. Whyte. The only son was killed in the war.13

The Macully children were born between 1885 and 1894. There appears to have been another omission: a son, Oscar Campbell Macully, who died in 1887, aged 7 months.14 Their oldest daughter was Eileen, followed by Norah, who married but appears to have died childless, and their youngest child, Arnold Alexander, an A.I.F. gunner, who died in 1918, aged 24, at St. Sopelt, France. The youngest daughter was Kathleen (‘Kitty’) Duncan Campbell Macully, who married Ernest Primrose (‘Prim’) Whyte a year prior to Macully’s death. Kitty and Prim had two daughters – Jean Primrose and Phyllis Primrose Whyte, Macully’s only grandchildren, born after his death, both of whom inherited their grandfather’s love of literature and neither of whom had children. Macully’s only public memorial is his tombstone, but his daughter, Kitty Whyte, killed by a shark at Brighton, in 1926, is memorialized by a fountain next to the pier. Several years after Kitty’s death Prim married her older sister, Eileen.

In later life Macully developed dementia, becoming a ‘wanderer’ who would stand in the middle of the road and shout ‘Macully’s lost!’ until rescued.15 He died in 1921 and is buried at St Jude’s with Minnie, their three daughters and Prim, and there is a plaque for Arnold.

‘So dear old Professor Macully has joined the angels! A most lovable man, and such a mixture of contradictions! Believed all things, hoped all things; to him nothing was impossible but what was impracticable’.16


1  ‘Such a mixture of contradictions’: [‘From “One of his many friends”’]. [Newspaper clipping], [1921]. SLSA: PRG 1335/10.

The surname is variously spelled M’Cully, McCully or Macully.

The State Library of South Australia holds a Macully scrapbook with newspaper clippings relating to recitals, poetry, etc.

2  ‘Obituaries. Rev. Alexander Macully, M.A., LL.B.’. The Observer [SA], January 15th, 1921, 34b.

3  Joseph Fraser. ‘Pen and ink sketches of prominent persons’. [Newspaper clipping], [1888?]. SLSA: PRG1288.

4  [Estate agent’s promotional pamphlet], [1999?]. SLSA: PRG 1335/10/2–9.

The grand mansion remains; the large coat of arms, painted in bright colours in contrast to the white walls, is attached to an exterior wall.

5  ‘Rev. Alexander McCully’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/10.

6  Alexander Macully. The art of reading. Melbourne: Mason, Firth & M’Cutcheon, 1887.

7  Douglas Pike, ed. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Volume 3: 1851–1890, 1969, 341–342.

8  ‘Fashionable wedding in Armagh’. [Newspaper clipping], n.d. SLSA: PRG 1335/10. Her parents are named, his are not.

9  Copy of disposition of Trust Capital Clause in Settlement. G.R. Campbell 24/5/27. SLSA: PRG 1335/10.

10  Dorothy Scott. The Halfway House to Infidelity, 1980, 38.

11  MACULLY, Alexander. Canterbury and Queensland. Insolvent, professor of elocution. Melbourne Court of Insolvency Index 1884–1900. Ref: 90/3273.

12  Brighton: a walk through history, 2001.

13  ‘Obituaries. Rev. Alexander Macully, M.A., LL.B.’. The Observer [SA], January 15th, 1921, 34b.

14  Pioneer Index. Victoria 1836–1888 records the death of an Oscar Campbell Macully, aged 7 months, son of ‘AlexR’ and ‘Minnie’ Campbell Macully in 1887. Although this name does not appear in family records I assume that Oscar was Minnie and Alexander’s child (could ‘Oscar’ have been in honour of Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer who was a contemporary of Macully at Trinity College, Dublin?). Minnie and Alexander appear not to have registered the births of any of their children except Arnold.

The Macully daughters were born between 1885 and 1891. The explorer Sir Douglas Mawson was born in 1882 and lived nearby in Brighton from 1904. I wonder whether the Misses Macully in the ‘castle’ were friendly with Mawson? The handsome Mawson was ‘being pursued by Adelaide’s society matrons’ (Nancy Robinson Flannery, ed. This everlasting silence, 2000, 2). The woman Mawson was to marry, Paquita, was born in the same year as Kitty Macully and, like Kitty, had wealthy parents who lived in Brighton (on a five-acre estate). Mawson is buried in St Jude’s Cemetery, Brighton.

15  Interview: Douglas Muecke, 2005. Both granddaughters, Jean (1923–2003) and Phyllis (1925–2005) Whyte, suffered from dementia which may have been inherited through the Macully family.

16  [‘From “One of his many friends”’]. [Newspaper clipping], [1921]. SLSA: PRG 1335/10.

Jean Primrose Whyte

   by Coralie Elsenore Janis Jenkin