People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Gillies Macpherson (1844–1928)

by Bill Macpherson

Gillies Macpherson

Born 1 February 1844 at the Dalwhinnie Inn, above Badenoch in Scotland.

Died 8 December 1928 in Marpole in Vancouver, Canada.

His parents were Graham McPherson (born 1820) and Isabell McPherson (birth date unknown) who were servants at the Inn and were unmarried at the time.

Raised by his grandfather Donald McPherson on farms in Badenoch, his education is unknown. After working as an agricultural labourer and shepherd on Lionel de Rothschildt’s estate near Aylesbury in England in his early twenties, he arrived in Queensland 14 January 1873 and apparently worked on the North Queensland goldfields. With his partner Jack Peterkin, he joined Western Australia’s Kimberley goldrush about 1884 and pioneered various W.A. goldfields, including the Murchison, Eastern and Dundas, apparently with much success. After the death of his wife and infant son in 1893, he led a party to explore the interior of W.A. through to Alice Springs. In 1898 he joined the Klondyke goldrush to the Yukon in Canada. He appears to have remained in North America and his final years appear to have involved humble work in the fish canning industry. A persistent rumour in Western Australia was that he had died in a blizzard on the Klondyke, but he died of bronchitis and myocarditis in 1928 in Vancouver, Canada and is buried in an unmarked grave in the Masonic Cemetery there.

With increasing prosperity, he adopted Macpherson as the spelling of his surname. He married Elizabeth Wisbey, daughter of the then Mayor of Bunbury WA on 17 November 1892 and took up an address in East Perth. Their son Donald Graham Macpherson was born in December 1893. However Elizabeth died in a smallpox epidemic in 1893 and their infant son died soon after.

Macpherson, with team-mates Jack Peterkin and J.C. Peterkin, was a dogged and wily prospector, always evasive about his finds. His legendary public image arose partly from speculative newspaper reports. The Scots explorer David Carnegie paid tribute to Macpherson by naming McPhersons Pillar, a huge square block of red rock on a conical mound visible from a great distance in the Gibson Desert. Carnegie described Macpherson as “a well-known and respected prospector who, though leaving no record of his journey, crossed the colony from west to east, visiting the hills and waters on Forrest's route as far east as Parker Range and thence striking Giles's route at the Albert and Mary, and so via the Rawlinson into Alice Springs on the Overland Telegraph. Though little of his journey was through new country, yet it had the valuable results of proving the non-existence of auriferous country in the belt traversed".

The only known photographs of him are in the State Photographic Collection in the Battye Library of Western Australian History, and were taken about 1893 when he was aged about 50. They are a studio portrait and photographs taken on the departure of his party for the interior. His religious affiliations, if any, are unknown, although he appears to have been in the Masonic movement. His first name, Gillies, was pronounced Gillis and was sometimes recorded in contemporary records as Gillis, Giles and other variants.

Known details of his life and achievements are in a paper entitled Gillies Macpherson - Western Australian Prospector and Explorer: Biographical Notes dated August 2012, in the State Library of Western Australia (Reference: QB/MAC) and is available on-line on their website. All sources for that paper are referenced

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bill Macpherson, 'Macpherson, Gillies (1844–1928)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mcpherson, Gillies

1 February, 1844
Dalwhinnie, Scotland


8 December, 1928 (aged 84)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.