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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cummins, John (1857–1934)

by Ian N. Moles

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

John Cummins (1857-1934), merchant, was born on 6 November 1857 on the Sofala gold diggings near Orange, New South Wales, son of John Cummins, storekeeper, and his wife Mary, née Halpin. Matriculating from St Stanislaus' College, Bathurst, Cummins avoided the University of Sydney and became a clerk in the firm of Dalton Bros, Orange. He then moved to Sydney for a short stint on the staff of the Orient Steam Navigation Co. before beginning a long association with the mercantile firm of (F. A.) Wright, Heaton & Co. Ltd. As an auditor for that company, he made his first visit to Townsville in 1886 on a tour of inspection of its North Queensland operations. In Brisbane on the way to Sydney, he received instructions to assume management of Wright Heaton's Townsville branch. On 20 November 1895 at St Columba's Catholic Church, Charters Towers, he married Annie Flynn.

In April 1899 Cummins resigned and entered a partnership with Aylmer Campbell as general merchants. The business opened on 17 March 1899 and thereafter traded as Cummins & Campbell Pty Ltd. Like many another Irish Catholic, Cummins rapidly developed an independent and patriotic attachment to his region. He was a big North Queenslander, long and affectionately remembered for his remark that 'Tanny-morel' was a healthy place but 'not-any-morelthy' than Townsville.

Not only big but bluff, Cummins was fond when young of social life, and in later years of ebullient companionability. Though tempered by the responsibilities of commercial and civic leadership, his warm humanity was reflected in the company practice of allotting shares to employees and managing 'C & Cs' as almost a co-operative concern. For many years the firm's house journal, Cummins & Campbell's Monthly Magazine, was almost the sole repository of writing on North Queensland.

The company filled the gap left in the north after the diversification of Burns Philp and the removal of its headquarters to Sydney; its prosperity waxed initially through its dealings with the revived Charters Towers goldfield—Aylmer Campbell managed the first branch there but died before 1909. Branches were established at Cairns, Bowen, Innisfail and Ingham with agencies at Ayr, Hughenden, Yungaburra and Cloncurry and a depot at Mount Isa.

Cummins became one of a triumvirate of local merchants including James Burns and Samuel Allen of Samuel Allen & Sons who dominated the commerce of Townsville and North Queensland from the first settlement. The companies that they founded still do. As importers and exporters and agents, they provisioned the squatters, backed the teamsters and packers and stood behind the goldfields storekeepers when they sank their capital in prospecting ventures and recouped it in grog selling.

Cummins was a member of the Townsville Harbour Board in 1908-17 and its chairman in 1910-12. He was president of the Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Turf Club until just before his death on 1 August 1934 at Townsville. Flags throughout the city flew at half-mast as he was buried in Townsville cemetery. He was survived by his wife (d.1935) and one of his two sons, and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Donnelly (ed), The Port of Townsville (Townsville, 1959)
  • G. C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisb, 1963)
  • Cummins and Campbell's Monthly Magazine, Aug 1934
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin, 2 Aug 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Aug 1934
  • North Queensland Register, 4 Aug 1934.

Citation details

Ian N. Moles, 'Cummins, John (1857–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 14 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 8

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