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Cole, John Thomas (Tom) (1854–1927)

by S. J. Routh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

John Thomas Cole (1854-1927), dairy farmer and stud-breeder, was born on 2 November 1854 at Jamberoo, New South Wales, second son and one of eight children of William Cole (d.1867), emancipist farmer, and his wife Annabella, née Mackenzie (d.1889). From about 1876 Tom and his elder brother James William (1852-1919), who was born on 2 November 1852, were showing stock as Cole Brothers and favouring deep-milking Shorthorn strains. Early devotees of milking records to improve herds, they came second in the Kiama show society's first notable production competition in 1879-80. Tom owed much of his later confidence in public affairs to a Jamberoo debating society.

James more often let his cattle speak for him. He married with Presbyterian forms Margaret Thorburn on 6 November 1882 at Jasper's Mount, Shoalhaven. Over the next quarter of a century James bought out much of the family-held land and increasingly showed stock under his own name. He followed a circuit of Illawarra shows—his Major V and Gold of Coleville were renowned show and stud cattle. A younger brother Ebenezer (1858-1930) was also a dairy farmer as well as a horse-breeder and served on Kiama Municipal Council.

Tom married Agnes Dixon Lamond on 6 March 1889 at Shoalhaven with Presbyterian forms. They were to have one daughter. He had progressively taken on local public offices, being an alderman on Kiama Municipal Council in 1882-90 and founding president of Jamberoo School of Arts in 1890, but was unsuccessful when he stood for Kiama as a free trader in elections in 1889 and 1895. Moving to Nowra in 1895 and later to Sydney, he continued some farming interests, but travelled widely with C. E. D. Meares, promoting dairy industry co-operation generally and the South Coast and West Camden Co-operative Co. specifically.

In 1899 Tom Cole became manager of the Scottish Australian Investment Co.'s dairying operations at Bolaro, near Adaminaby. He and Frank McCaffrey upgraded the stock with Illawarra dairy strains, including Cole's bull, Banker. Cole's expertise, and his transfer in 1907-08 to the more benign climate and well-watered land of Darbalara, near Gundagai, led the cattleman George Grey to write that the herd had 'the biggest dairy cows I have ever seen'.

For about three decades dairy stud breeding was bedevilled by contention between Milking Shorthorn and Illawarra Dairy Cattle breeders. Illogicalities abounded. J. T. Cole was president (from 1908) and standard-bearer of the Milking Shorthorn party; Darbalara cattle won almost all champion awards for the breed in Sydney between 1910 and 1926, with the bull, Emblem of Darbalara, and a series of cows from the Melba line outstanding. Through cattle such as Banker, Heather and Madame, his line breeding continually drew on decades of the Coles's favoured Major strains.

In 1912 the Darbalara herd was the first stud herd to be regularly tested by the Department of Agriculture, and was enthusiastically publicized at home and abroad, particularly when in 1924 Melba XV—'the world's champion butter-fat cow'—for the second time broke world production records. In 1925 Cole received the New South Wales Chamber of Agriculture award for 'eminent service to the cause of agriculture'.

The Darbalara herd was dispersed in 1926. Abstemious, with a gaunt face but neat beard, Tom Cole was lauded by veteran employees and share-farmers for his knowledge, judgement and considerate oversight. The brothers all retired to Sydney. James had died on 24 November 1919. John Thomas died on 13 May 1927 at Glebe and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His wife and daughter survived him. In 1930 rival cattlemen resolved their differences and the official name of the locally developed breed, to which the Cole brothers had been such major contributors, became the Australian Illawarra Shorthorn.

Select Bibliography

  • The Milking Shorthorn Cattle Herd Book of New South Wales, vol 1 (Syd, 1906)
  • F. McCaffrey, The History of Illawarra and its Pioneers (Syd, 1924)
  • G. F. Finlay (ed), Cattle Breeding (Edinburgh, Scotland, 1925)
  • Australian Illawarra Shorthorn Society: Golden Jubilee Souvenir 1980 (Kiama, NSW 1980)
  • D. O’Keefe, ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ (Jamberoo, NSW, 1983?)
  • J. Cole, A History of the Cole Family in Australia (Syd, 1992)
  • A. Cousins, The Garden of New South Wales (Wollongong, NSW, 1994)
  • R. A. S. Annual, 1907, p 113
  • Agricultural Gazette (New South Wales), 2 Oct 1914, p 889, 1 July 1924, p 489
  • Sydney Mail, 14 Feb 1880, p 328
  • Gundagai Times, 1 Nov 1910, p 1
  • Kiama Independent, 26 Nov 1919, p 2
  • Gundagai Independent, 27 May 1926, p 1
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Sept 1926, p 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 1927, p 12.

Citation details

S. J. Routh, 'Cole, John Thomas (Tom) (1854–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cole-john-thomas-tom-12849/text23199, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 August 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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