Records indicate that McFarlane was in business at the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets in 1850 and 1851. He was probably the second Melbourne merchant to issue tokens (the first being Annand, Smith & Co. in 1849). (Sharples, 1993, p.49)
Gardner, in his brief biography, says that McFarlane arrived in Melbourne in 1841 and that he sent goods to the goldfields during the rushes, doing very well from his trade there in addition to his business in the city. 'Mr McFarlane has been described to me by a gentleman who knew him as a keen business man, but withal a very pleasant and genial one, who, like a few others, made the most of those opportunities that offered in those golden days, with the result that in a short time he had amassed a fortune and was able to retire. He built a very nice house on the St Kilda Esplanade and lived there for many years.' (Gardner, 1910)
The only mention of McFarlane found in the press goes against the image of the successful businessman presented in this biography. On 15 December 1856 he appeared before the insolvents court, stating that he had executed a deed of assignment of all his property for the benefit of his creditors in March, and that, after a few weeks carrying on business for the assignees, the remaining stock had been sold at auction by W.M. Tennant and Co. After a few weeks he had reopened the business, but he had no idea of how much business he had done as he had not kept books during the period (covering 14th April to 'about two months ago'). The meeting was adjourned to 4 February 1857. (The Argus, 16 December 1856, p.5) Even though McFarlane was insolvent in 1856, it is still entirely possible that he retired a few years later a wealthy man.
Gardner, F. (1910). 'Trade tokens and the firms which issued them: J. McFarlane.' Originally published in The Australian Storekeepers and Traders Journal, republished in The Australian Coin Review, June 1970, p.17.
The Argus, 16 December 1856, p.5.
Sharples, J. (1993). 'Catalogue of Victorian Trade Tokens.' Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia. Vol. 7, December, pp.49-50.
Hope, John (2005). 'McFarlane', unpublished MSS, 2pps.