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Cameron, Alexander (1864–1940)

by Kathleen Thomson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Alexander Cameron (1864-1940), solicitor and public servant, was born on 5 August 1864 at Morgiana station, near Hamilton, Victoria, twin son of John Cameron, sheep-farmer, and his wife Barbara Winifred, née Taylor. He was educated at Hamilton College and on matriculating in 1881 attended lectures at the University of Melbourne. In March he was articled to Charles James Cresswell, a Hamilton solicitor; in June 1885 the articles were assigned to David Houston Herald of Melbourne, and he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor to the Supreme Court of Victoria on 1 September 1886.

After a trip abroad Cameron began practice in Melbourne. About 1889 he set up in partnership with Samuel Crisp; the firm later became Crisp, Cameron & Rennick, and finally Crisp, Cameron & Hanby. On 29 June 1892 he married Mary Wright in Toorak Presbyterian Church, and settled in Malvern.

In 1902 Cameron was elected to Malvern Town Council and soon after was appointed a council delegate to the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. His main concerns were tramway services and building regulations in the suburbs. His outstanding work for Malvern was to bring to a successful conclusion the council's long fight for a municipal tramway. He used his legal knowledge and business ability to pave the way for the formation in 1907 of the Prahran and Malvern Tramways Trust in order to construct an electric tramway linking the two suburbs. On 16 March 1908 both councils elected him chairman of the trust, whose activities later extended to seven suburbs. In his years as chairman, Cameron became a recognized authority on the subject of passenger transport, and a tireless advocate of electric trams as the best means of providing quick transport for developing suburbs.

In July 1919 Cameron was appointed full-time chairman of the newly constituted Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board. Tramway lines, for both cable and electric traction, had been constructed by different bodies without any uniform system; under Cameron's guidance the Tramways Board was to bring these under a single control, extend the electric lines, and convert the existing cable-system to electric traction.

In March 1923 Cameron went abroad to investigate traffic problems; he returned next year confirmed in his long-held opinions that electric trams were superior to buses and that overhead wires were preferable to the underground conduit system. Controversy over the use of buses or trams in Melbourne continued, however, despite protests by Cameron that full investigations had been made in 1922 and 1927. That year, despite opposition from town planning bodies and the Melbourne City Council, the construction of electric tramways in St Kilda Road and Collins Street went ahead. He continued to fight off criticisms that electric trams were noisy, that overhead wires disfigured the streets, and that trams caused congestion.

Cameron's term of office was originally five years. The structure of the board was then to be reviewed, but this was continually postponed and Cameron's term extended. Finally, on 18 December 1935, reconstruction was announced and at the same time Cameron's retirement. He first read of this decision in the press and the members of the board protested at the grave discourtesy shown to him; they paid tribute to him when he chaired his last meeting on 19 December.

Cameron was a member of the Institute of Transport, London, and kept himself well informed of modern trends by reading technical journals and corresponding with traffic experts overseas. He was well read in the works of Virgil, Horace, Washington Irving, Emerson and others. 'Short and burly, affable and homely', Cameron was known for his friendliness, and his enthusiastic dedication to his work. 'He talks and thinks trams', wrote an interviewer in 1928. He was president of the Club Cameron of Victoria and a member of the Melbourne Scots and the Rotary and Yorick clubs. Among his club associates he was well known as a golfer, fisherman, 'bridge-maestro', raconteur and philosopher. He died of cancer at his home in South Yarra on 23 February 1940, survived by his wife; their only son had died in infancy.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, its Progress and Development, 1919-1929 (Melb, 1929)
  • Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, Centenary Souvenir, 1934-5 (Melb, 1935)
  • J. B. Cooper, A History of Malvern (Melb, 1935)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • J. D. Keating, Mind the Curve! (Melb, 1970)
  • Institution of Engineers, Australia, Journal, 6 (1934)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 3 July 1919
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1924, 28 Jan 1929, 5 Apr 1930, 1 Jan 1936
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 8 Mar 1928
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Feb 1940
  • M.M.T.B. Annual Report, 1919-36 (Melbourne).

Citation details

Kathleen Thomson, 'Cameron, Alexander (1864–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cameron-alexander-5471/text9297, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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