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Crombie, James (1834–1898)

by D. B. Waterson

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

James Crombie (1834-1898), pastoralist and politician, was born on 8 June 1834 at Kilminning Farm, Crail, Fifeshire, Scotland, son of David Guillan Crombie, farmer, and his wife Jessie, née Webster. Educated at Madras College, St Andrews, he reached Melbourne on 4 March 1853 on the Typhoon and prospected with fair success at Bakery Hill, Ballarat.

Joined by his brother William (1836-1898), Crombie commenced mixed farming at Mount Prospect, Creswick, and developed a close relationship with the family of John Cameron. Crombie was an active member of the Creswick District Road Board, the Bullarook Farmers' Common and the Smeaton, Spring Hill and Bullarook Agricultural Association. He embarked on a pastoral trek to Queensland with the Camerons in 1863. On 1 December 1869 at Springsure he married Isabella Harriet, Cameron's sister. They had four sons and three daughters.

The partnership stocked Barcaldine Downs in 1864-78 and later leased Kensington Downs and Greenhills, near Muttaburra in the Mitchell district. Crombie visited Britain in 1877-79 and, in 1881, the brothers took control of Greenhills. James moved to Brisbane and also purchased a large Fassifern farm. He became a director of the Royal Bank of Queensland and the Queensland Meat Export and Agency Co., and joined the Queensland Meat and Dairy Board. Representing Mitchell in 1888-93, and Warrego in 1893-98, Crombie was one of the last of the pioneer Central Queensland squatters to enter parliament. Publicly taciturn and blunt, he was uninterested in political advancement although privately warm hearted and genial. He raised his widower brother's four children.

Crombie was foundation treasurer of the United Pastoralists' Association of Queensland (1891-96), and delegate to all conventions of the Pastoralists' Federal Council of Australia during the shearing strikes of 1891 and 1894. In 1889 he believed that 'the [trade] union had been a blessing to the district', but by 1891 he eulogized the role of the defence forces in the great confrontation. Similarly, in 1894, he was one of the more intransigent of the employers, a position he admitted had been forced upon him by falling prices, rising rents and militant unionists. He judged the pastoralists' victory as a logical triumph of commonsense over the 'threats and intimidation by certain union leaders' who were 'rightly rejected by the very bushmen they purported to represent'.

Like other Victorian 'gold rushers' but not his Queensland confrères, Crombie was a protectionist who advocated state assistance to create a sturdy section of western grazing farmers. But these views were subordinated to the efforts he made to preserve dwindling family-structured pastoral empires mired in the quicksands of post-1889 Queensland. His utterances during 1894-95 reflect both their and his bewilderment at the threat of radical change and the frustrations of pioneer aspirations forged a generation before. Still, he had contributed substantially to the establishment and diversification of sound, productive rural enterprise in Queensland, and his conservative opinions concealed a successful rearguard action. He preserved family properties, helped maintain the political status quo and successfully curtailed the 'socialist menace' before Federation.

Predeceased by a son and a daughter, Crombie died of heart disease at Oriel, Albion, Brisbane, on 17 September 1898, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Toowong cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £33,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1896, p 720
  • Queensland Heritage, 3 (1978), no 3, p 6
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Oct 1898
  • Creswick and Clunes Advertiser, 29 Apr 1862, 17 Feb 1863
  • Brisbane Courier, 4 May 1893, 5, 10, 26 Mar 1896
  • Queenslander, 24 Sept 1898
  • R. E. Cameron, Pastoral Organizations in Queensland, 1884-1900 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1956)
  • J. McCormack, The Politics of Expediency: Queensland Government in the Eighteen-Nineties (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1975)
  • Royal Bank of Queensland, chairman's speech, 1899, A/RBQ/061 (National Bank of Australia Archives, Brisbane)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Crombie, James (1834–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crombie-james-265/text9891, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 November 2018.

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

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