Was born in 1818 at
Glasgow, Scotland. He emigrated to Australia in 1850, and settled in the
Moreton Bay district, then part of New South Wales. He practised as a
solicitor, took part in the movement for separation, and was elected a
representative for Ipswich in the New South Wales parliament. When the new
colony of Queensland was founded in 1859, he was elected to the first
parliament as member for his old district and was made chairman of
committees. In March 1862 he joined the Herbert (q.v.) ministry as
secretary for public lands and works, and when Herbert resigned on 1
February 1866, became premier. His ministry only lasted until 20 July
1866, when he resigned owing to the governor, Sir George Bowen (q.v.),
refusing to sanction a proposed issue of "inconvertible government notes".
Bowen called on Herbert to form a new ministry which immediately carried
an act authorizing the issue of exchequer bills. This carried the colony
through a financial crisis caused by the failure of the Agra and
Masterman's bank, which had arranged a loan for railway extensions.
Herbert had to leave for England almost at once, a reconstruction of the
ministry was made, and Macalister again became premier on 7 August 1866.
He resigned a year later and was again elected chairman of committees When
Charles Lilley (q.v.) became premier in November 1868, Macalister took
office as secretary for public lands and works, and for the goldfields.
This ministry resigned in May 1870 and in November Macalister was elected
speaker. He lost his seat in June 1871 but was re-elected for Ipswich in
1873. He formed his third ministry in January 1874 and resigned in June
1876 to become agent-general for Queensland in London. His health failing
in 1881 he resigned his office as agent-general, and was granted a pension
of £500 a year. He died on 23 March 1883. He was created C.M.G. in 1876.
Macalister was a ready
speaker and a capable and energetic politician, who was always in a
prominent position in the early days of Queensland politics.