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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dickson, James (1859–1949)

by John Warhurst

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

James Dickson (1859-1949), merchant and draper, was born on 23 September 1859 at Warrnambool, Victoria, son of James Dickson, merchant and draper, and his wife Susan Murray, née Ritchie, both from Scotland. In 1870 Dickson's father travelled to London with his family to manage the branch of the business there, and did not return until 1880. During this period young James was educated at Park School, Glasgow, Scotland.

Dickson's father, together with John Glass Cramond, had laid the foundation for a general store in Warrnambool on 20 August 1855. Cramond & Dickson's came to concentrate on drapery, which was bought in London and exported directly to Warrnambool. Before its closure in 1974 it reputedly held the Victorian record for the oldest continuing business firm operating under the original name. James Dickson junior spent his working life within the firm. When his father departed for the London branch for a further term in 1887, he became manager of the Warrnambool business; he was eventually senior partner. His capacity for business was undoubted and the firm seems to have won the loyalty of its staff. Outgoing and affable, he was popular with his employees.

Dickson was one of those leading citizens whose activities contributed to the growth of the commercial heart of the city of Warrnambool, in particular of the large firms on which residents relied heavily for employment. He was a member of the original directorate of the Warrnambool Woollen Mill (registered as a company in October 1909), and an original guarantor and director of the Warrnambool Butter and Cheese Factory Co. Ltd formed in May 1888. He also served on the committee of management of the Warrnambool and District Base Hospital for nearly fifty years. Despite his wide-ranging public activities, he had little active interest in politics, though he was on the town council in 1891-94: his election at his first attempt, as a young man, with a comfortable majority over the sitting representative, reflected his standing in the community. He was a keen sportsman who raced horses which won both in the Western district and in Melbourne. He had a lifetime involvement in the Warrnambool Racing and the Warrnambool Amateur Turf clubs, serving as president of both organizations.

On 11 September 1888, at the Presbyterian Church, South Yarra, Dickson married Mary Glass Cramond, daughter of the co-founder of the family business; she also had been born in Warrnambool. Of their eight children, John Russell was killed in action in France during World War I, while David succeeded his father as senior partner in Cramond & Dickson's. Dickson died on 2 February 1949 in hospital at Warrnambool and was buried in the town cemetery after a Presbyterian service. He was survived by his wife, three daughters and three sons. His estate was valued for probate at £28,658.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. Sayers, By These We Flourish (Melb, 1969)
  • Warrnambool Standard, 2 Feb 1949, 27 July 1974
  • family scrapbook (privately held).

Citation details

John Warhurst, 'Dickson, James (1859–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 4 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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