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Cribb, James Clarke (1856–1926)

by Margaret Bridson Cribb

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

This is a shared entry with:

CRIBB BROTHERS: Thomas Bridson (1845-1913), James Clarke (1856-1926), and Henry Smart (1864-1944), businessmen and politicians, were sons of Benjamin Cribb. Thomas, second son of Benjamin and his wife Elizabeth, née Brideson, was born on 1 December 1845 in London and accompanied his parents to Moreton Bay aboard the Chaseley in 1849. James, born on 4 October 1856 at Ipswich, was the third child of Benjamin's second marriage in 1853 to Clarissa Foote; Henry, born on 5 April 1864 at Ipswich, was their youngest son.

Thomas was a foundation pupil of the Ipswich Boys's Grammar School, where his brothers were also educated. Like them he entered his father's mercantile and banking business, ultimately becoming senior partner and retiring in 1902. In religion, they continued the family tradition of staunch and devoted Nonconformism; Thomas in lifelong service to the Ipswich Congregational Church, much of it as a deacon, while James and Henry were for many years superintendents and teachers of the Sunday school. Family support for the grammar school was maintained by Thomas and James, the former as chairman of trustees of the Ipswich Girls' Grammar School. His love of music was reflected in his presidency of the Blackstone-Ipswich Cambrian Choir.

On 23 May 1893 Thomas was appointed to the Legislative Council; he resigned three years later and won Ipswich in the Legislative Assembly. He served in the assembly during great political instability, including the fall of three ministries, a railway construction scandal and the worst drought on record. The Philp ministry was forced to drastically retrench the civil service and, as colonial treasurer in 1901-03, Cribb compounded the government's unpopularity with the first income tax in Queensland, causing its fall; he was defeated at the next election in 1904. With others who disliked the political bias of the Brisbane Courier he had launched the Daily Mail in May 1903.

Cribb was reappointed to the Legislative Council in June 1913, but was too ill to serve. He died at his Southport home on 4 September. Of his marriage on 3 June 1874 to Marian Lucy, née Foote, there were five sons and two daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £69,435. Slightly built, gently spoken and with a keen sense of humour, Cribb seemed happiest within his family. Asthmatic from youth, only a strong sense of duty propelled him into public life; deafness from middle age increased his problems.

James was member for Rosewood in the assembly in 1893-96. He devoted 1896-99 to the family business, then represented Bundamba in 1899-1912 and Bremer in 1912-15. A confirmed liberal, he easily held these working-class seats, perhaps because of his help to Ipswich coal-mining. He gained much credit for stabilizing the industry by persistent agitation for a schedule price scheme for railway coal in place of tendering; the loop-line to Bundamba and Blackstone mines was another success. He was also a skilful industrial conciliator.

James served on the Bundamba Shire Council and on the Girls' Grammar School Board, while holding directorships, including the Queensland Woollen Manufacturing Co. Ltd and the Ipswich Gas and Coke Co. Ltd. On 20 February 1884 in Melbourne, he married Alice Elizabeth, daughter of Rev. F. H. Browne, of the Richmond Congregational Church. They had three sons and five daughters. He disposed of his interest in the family firm to relatives in 1904 and died at Ipswich on 23 May 1926 of arteriosclerosis.

The true inheritor of his father's entrepreneurial skill was Henry. Friendly and sociable, he was very much a man of the world and a sporting gentleman. He represented the colony in cricket, football and tennis. A foundation member of the Queensland Hunt Club, where his horse Parnell twice won the point-to-point steeplechase, he was also a fine horseman and polo-player. Breeding and exhibiting fox terriers, greyhounds, homing pigeons, Jersey cattle and horses, he was a councillor of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association in 1920-40 and was active in other agricultural show societies. As a bloodstock breeder, notably of trotting horses, on his grazing property, Gulvallis, at Toogoolawah, he imported sires from New Zealand and America and helped to improve show trotting in Queensland. A lieutenant in the Queensland Mounted Infantry, he served during the 1891 shearing strike.

In 1917 Henry was closely connected with the Nationalist Party as president of the Ipswich and Bremer National Association, and as a financial backer and president of the National Democratic Council in 1919-21. Three sons and one daughter were born of his marriage on 2 May 1888 to Esther Elizabeth Gomez de Silva. By the death or retirement of other shareholders, he was able to acquire sole ownership of the family firm on 31 December 1924. On 22 June 1927 he and his family sold their interests, severing the last connexions of the Cribb and Foote families with the firm founded by Benjamin Cribb in 1849. Henry died at Ipswich on 16 July 1944.

The Cribbs made no outstanding or lasting contribution as members of parliament. Yet they were typical of those Queensland families who came to hold and to wield considerable local and regional power. For almost a century they dominated the cultural, sporting, economic and political life of the West Moreton district. Ipswich is still graced by their town houses, several of which are outstanding Queensland examples of the best of colonial architecture.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 1 (Brisb, 1919)
  • L. E. Slaughter, Ipswich Municipal Centenary (Brisb, 1960)
  • Brisbane Courier, 6 Sept 1913
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 23 June 1937
  • Queensland Times, 24 June 1937
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Bridson Cribb, 'Cribb, James Clarke (1856–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cribb-james-clarke-6331/text9879, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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