Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Black, John (1817–1879)

by Margaret Caldwell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Black (1817-1879), by unknown photographer

John Black (1817-1879), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 16829

John Black (1817-1879), politician and commission agent, was born at St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, son of John Black. He was educated at the elementary English School and at the Grammar School of St Andrews. He took an early interest in politics and was an active supporter of Andrew Johnston, who won the seat of Cupar in the general elections for the reformed parliament in January 1833. He then entered a lawyer's office but, finding it not to his taste, took up an appointment in 1839 at the Red River Settlement, Canada, as legal adviser to Adam Thom, the first recorder of Rupert's Land. Black then joined the Hudson's Bay Co. where he quickly became a commissioned officer and in 1850 was chief trader at the company's factory at Fort Garry, the seat of local government. In 1851 the company appointed him a member of the Red River Settlement's Council and president of the Petty Court. In 1845 he had married the eldest daughter of Alexander Christie, governor of the Red River Settlement.

In 1852 Black visited Britain where his wife died next year at Torquay, Devon. In 1854 he returned to Canada, broke up his home, resigned from the Hudson's Bay Co. and returned to Scotland. He migrated to New South Wales, arriving at Sydney in September 1855. For some time he was tenant of a farm belonging to John Robertson near Scone. His brother, Alexander, was the Presbyterian minister at Murrurundi in 1851-60. John moved in 1857 to Balmain, Sydney, where he became a partner in Molison & Black, ship-brokers and commission agents. Among other business he handled the movement of Chinese in and out of Sydney and helped to unravel their problems with the Customs Office. He also resumed his interest in politics and was invited to accept nomination for East Sydney. He was then chairman of the Land League which was pressing for a thorough reform in the administration of the land system. This formed the basis of his policy, along with advocating an elective upper house, railway extension, retrenchment in the expenses of the government, reform of the immigration system, the gradual withdrawal of state aid for religion, a National system of education and the transfer of sewerage rates to general revenue. With James Martin, Henry Parkes and Charles Cowper he was elected for East Sydney on 9 June 1859.

Black was secretary for lands in William Forster's ministry from 27 October 1859 to 8 March 1860. He was an intelligent and fluent speaker, though given to long flights of ornate oratory. He lost sight of all his ideals in the public lands bill he introduced in the Legislative Assembly; it was in essence a 'squatters' bill' that failed with his land tax bill. The ministry was finally defeated on a bill to amend the constitution of the Legislative Council.

After the dissolution of parliament in November 1860, Black did not seek re-election. In 1862 he returned to Scotland, went to Canada and was appointed recorder of Rupert's Land. He held the position until the province of Manitoba was created in 1870. Later that year he was a member of the delegation sent to Ottawa to present the views of the Red River settlers to the Canadian government. He then returned to Scotland where he died at St Andrews on 3 February 1879 in his sixty-second year.

Select Bibliography

  • Select Committee on Seizure of Gold, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1858, 3, 482
  • Southern Cross (Sydney), 14 Jan 1860
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Apr 1879.

Citation details

Margaret Caldwell, 'Black, John (1817–1879)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/black-john-3000/text4363, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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