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Cudmore, James Francis (1837–1912)

by P. A. Howell

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

This is a shared entry with Daniel Henry Cudmore

James Francis Cudmore (1837-1912) and Daniel Henry Cudmore (1844-1913), pastoralists, were born on 11 October 1837 at sea between Hobart Town and Adelaide, and on 7 February 1844 at Modbury, South Australia, eldest sons of Daniel Michael Paul Cudmore (1811-1891) and his wife Mary, née Nihill, of Limerick, Ireland. D. M. P. Cudmore, the younger son of a Quaker Anglo-Irish landowner, applied for a free passage to Australia in 1834 as his means were 'very limited'. With his wife he migrated to Van Diemen's Land in June 1835 and, after a few months as schoolmaster at Ross, worked in a brewery. He moved to South Australia in 1837, and made enough money building pisé houses to establish breweries in Adelaide and later at Kapunda. He also bought and farmed a section at Modbury. In 1847 he inherited property in Ireland but sold it to take up a pastoral lease of 80 sq. miles (207 km²) at Yongala, which carried 18,000 sheep. In the 1850s he also leased Pinda, Beautiful Valley and Paringa stations. In the 1860s, after a 1700-mile (2736 km) exploratory journey from Rockhampton, he acquire still larger leases in Queensland and New South Wales. He then began transferring his holdings to his sons, and retired to his villa, Claremont, Glen Osmond, where he died on 3 November 1891, survived by his wife, four sons and four daughters. In 1882 he had published A Few Poetical Scraps from the Portfolio of an Australian Pioneer.

James Francis was first educated by the Jesuits at Sevenhill then at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, after the family had transferred to the Anglican Church. From 1859 he managed Paringa, 208 sq. miles (531 km²), and in 1860 he leased Ned's Corner, further up the Murray. From these properties he overlanded sheep to Queensland and took up leases there.

On 26 March 1867 he married Margaret Budge. Three years later, with his wife's brother, he bought Gooyea (later Milo) on the Bulloo, Queensland, from Vincent Dowling. In 1876 he enlarged Ned's Corner in partnership with Robert Barr Smith and A. H. Pegler. By the end of the 1870s 130,000 sheep were being shorn at his stations on the Murray, and his Queensland prospects seemed excellent. But, tiring of travelling between his properties, he began to play the gentleman, left too many decisions to his managers, and spent £40,000 building and furnishing Paringa Hall at Somerton.

Cudmore overreached himself by buying Welford Downs on the Barcoo and amalgamating it with Milo, making a run of 5100 sq. miles (13,209 km²). He had to take as additional partners Sir Thomas Elder and W. R. Swan, and establish the Milo and Welford Downs Pastoral Co.; they insisted on a change from cattle to sheep, requiring expensive improvements, and it was twenty years before the company paid a dividend. Meanwhile, a rabbit plague reduced his woolclip by 80 per cent, and by 1886 his debts exceeded £200,000. His creditors agreed to postpone insolvency proceedings for a year. An unsecured loan from the Bank of New Zealand helped pay his interest bills and he provided for his family by completing the transfer of Paringa Hall and other freeholds to his wife and his unencumbered Queensland leases, Tara, Dartmouth and Blackall, to his sons.

In 1888 Cudmore was forced to make a composition under the 1886 Insolvent Act. His secured creditors accepted all his mortgaged properties and investments at their conservative valuations. Other creditors had to accept 5s. in the pound. He died at Paringa Hall on 17 August 1912, survived by his wife and eleven of their children, and a natural son and daughter by Isabella Crowe, spinster, of Nailsworth, South Australia, whom he also provided for. An old life policy yielded more than enough to pay the debts he had incurred since 1888 and his estate was sworn for probate at £4859. His second son by his wife Margaret, Sir Arthur Murray Cudmore (1870-1951), was a leading Adelaide surgeon.

Daniel Henry Cudmore was educated at Sevenhill and the Collegiate School of St Peter; he managed Yongala from 1860. Unlucky in his sheep leases on the Clarke and Warrego rivers in Queensland, he was successful at Avoca station, New South Wales, acquired in 1870, with frontages of ten miles (16 km) to the Murray and twenty-five miles (40 km) to the Darling. He was fascinated by technology and spent many thousands draining the Darling's anabranch, making water storages and erecting fences. He used pumps to irrigate lucerne and other fodder crops, and 120,000 sheep were shorn at Avoca in 1888 with his new Wolseley shearing machines.

An honorary magistrate, Cudmore served as sheriff of the county and chairman of the Wentworth district council and agricultural society, built St John's Church, Wentworth, and paid its vicar. He used Melanesian labour to grow sugar-cane on 3000 acres (1214 ha) his father had bought on the Herbert River, Queensland, and invested in the North Queensland Brewing Co. and urban property in Brisbane and Rockhampton. In Scotland in 1890 he stayed at the Trossach's Hotel, which inspired him to build his turreted seaside mansion, Adare, at Victor Harbor, South Australia, where he died on 14 December 1913. His estate was sworn for probate at £5752. On 20 February 1872 at Glen Osmond he had married Harriet Garrett Smedley who bore him two sons and a daughter before her death on 16 March 1879. On 15 November 1882 he married Martha Earle McCracken, by whom he had another four sons, the second of these being Sir Collier Robert Cudmore (1885-1971), who won a gold medal for rowing at the 1908 Olympics and was long prominent in South Australian politics.

Besides their numerous progeny (used as dummies in the free-selection era), the Cudmores left two abiding legacies: the improvements they effected on their Yongala and Riverland leaseholds paved the way for the later success of numerous small-holders; and their great houses, Tara, Avoca, Claremont, Paringa Hall, Popiltah and Adare, though now bereft of the elaborate formal gardens which once graced them, are still a wonder to behold.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. H. Jessop, Flindersland and Sturtland (Lond, 1862)
  • Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, vols 1, 2 (Adel, 1925, 1927)
  • T. C. Borrow, The Cudmore Family in Australia (Adel, 1945)
  • M. H. Ward, Some Brief Records of Brewing in South Australia (Adel, 1951)
  • K. Sharp and B. Crump, A History of Milo and Ambathala (Adel, 1963)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 7 Nov 1891, 24, 31 Aug, 2 Nov 1912, 20 Dec 1913
  • Federal Standard (Chiltern, Victoria), 23 Nov 1895
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 Dec 1913
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 24 Aug 1912, 20 Dec 1913
  • Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 10, 17 Aug 1975, Cudmore papers (State Records of South Australia)
  • CO 201/244/129-30.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Cudmore, James Francis (1837–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cudmore-james-francis-271/text9913, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 August 2014.

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

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