This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981
James Newton Haxton Hume Cook (1866-1942), politician, was born on 23 September 1866 at Kihikihi, New Zealand, eldest of the nine children of James Cook, then a private in the Waikato militia and originally from Walsall, England, and his wife Janet, née Mair, from Rutherglen, Scotland. James Hume Cook, as he was known, had an unsettled childhood: his father failed in farming, three sisters died of diphtheria and he had to leave school at 13 and work as a travelling book salesman. In November 1881 the Cooks migrated to Melbourne where the father, supported by his oldest son's cheap labour, manufactured harness mountings. His health impaired, and eager to leave his mean-spirited father, Cook struck out on his own in 1887 to sell real estate in Ascot Vale. He also joined the Australian Natives' Association and began to read widely and attend political meetings.
Hume Cook claimed that he owed 'almost everything' to the association. At his first meeting he was appointed branch auditor, within fifteen months he was branch president, in 1894 he joined the board of directors and in 1896 was elected president. Through the A.N.A. he gained the confidence to expand his public activities. He joined the Anti-Sweating League and several protectionist associations; won a seat on the Brunswick Town Council in August 1893 at the fourth attempt, helped to straighten out the council's finances, and became mayor in 1896. Elected with Sir Graham Berry in 1894 to represent East Bourke Boroughs in the Legislative Assembly, he campaigned for Federation and helped to persuade the A.N.A. to support the proposed constitution at its Bendigo conference of 1897.
For all his energy Hume Cook was a light-weight in Victorian politics. Regarded by the Age as 'too inexperienced', he finished nineteenth among the twenty-eight candidates who stood for the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention. He dismissed himself as a 'comparative non-success', his most notable achievement being membership of the royal commission on state banking (1894-95). He was important for his support of liberal causes: protection, electoral, educational and land reform, state intervention into wage-fixing and working conditions. In 1894 he was one of the younger element who pushed the A.N.A. on to a similar platform. In parliament he attended meetings with Labor members claiming that only their pledge prevented him from joining them formally, his sympathies being 'entirely with the labouring classes'. He was convinced that there was a middle way between Conservatism and Labor.
Rejected by East Bourke Boroughs in 1900, Hume Cook won the Federal seat of Bourke in 1901 and held it in 1903 and 1906. He was a firm Deakinite, loyal enough to liberal principles to oppose Alfred Deakin's support for (Sir) George Reid in 1905, yet loyal enough to the man, and sufficiently afraid of losing his seat, to join Deakin in the fusion with the Conservatives in 1909. Between 1905 and 1908 he was party whip, cabinet secretary and honorary minister, and in June-December 1908 chaired the royal commission on postal services (1908-10): experiences which he thought much less interesting than his rescue by the police from an armed lunatic who had invaded his parliamentary office. His evident pleasure in recounting such stories, and his habit of self-denigration, reflected a liking for the absurd, an honest view of his own limitations, and a contempt for the self-important. Yet inside the House he was respected for his sharp political nose and critical if discursive mind. Labor regarded him as dangerous because of his popularity among small business and working-class families in Brunswick, and set out to destroy him in the 1910 election. After a campaign of 'extraordinary heat and venom', in which 'Bloom Chook' was denounced as an Orangeman, he was soundly defeated by Frank Anstey. Rejected again in 1913 by the Maribyrnong electorate, Hume Cook left politics, certain that he had saved his health and his finances.
He remained a non-Labor man without ever feeling comfortable among the rich and conservative. During the first World War W. M. Hughes replaced Deakin as his hero, in a friendship enhanced by a common liking for nigger minstrel shows and humorous tales. In 1916 Hume Cook helped to bring Hughes together with the non-Labor premiers in the National Federation. He was federation secretary until unjustly dismissed in May 1919 for 'disobedience and insubordination' following a dispute with the conservative wing. In 1929-30 he assisted Hughes in forming the abortive Australian Party. By then, however, his major work was with the Australian Industries Protection League of which he was secretary from 1922 until his death. In 1932 he represented manufacturing interests at the Imperial Economic Conference in Ottawa and, to mark a 'life-long' commitment to protectionist causes, was made a fellow of the Royal Economic Society in 1936 on the initiative of J. M. Keynes. He had also been involved in orchard-growing, mining and insurance companies and charitable organizations. He published a book of Australian fairy tales and wrote hundreds of protectionist pamphlets, patriotic poetry, and several manuscripts, including his memoirs and an extravagant piece on Hughes. On 7 June 1941 he was appointed C.M.G.
On 26 March 1902 in the Presbyterian Church, Brunswick, Hume Cook had married 18-year-old Nellie Maine. He died at a Brighton private hospital on 8 August 1942 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons.
I. R. Hancock, 'Cook, James Newton Haxton Hume (1866–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-james-newton-haxton-hume-5762/text9763, accessed 12 December 2013.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981