Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fry, James (1821–1903)

by Carole Woods

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

James Fry (1821-1903), farmer and flour-miller, was born at Cassington, Oxfordshire, England. The ship Brilliant brought him and his wife Mary, née Gean, to Victoria in 1854. He settled first at Geelong, and after experience on the goldfields bought a property near Mount Blowhard, about eleven miles (18 km) from Ballarat, and started grain-growing on an extensive scale. In 1856 he bought a primitive flour-milling plant at Geelong and erected it on his land. The little mill soon prospered and Fry installed in its place the advanced and complete equipment of the Ascot steam flour-mills at a cost of £25,000. The extension of farming around the Ballarat goldfield supplied ample grain for the Ascot mill and, with the local mining population as a ready market, Fry's success continued. In 1864 with Gilbert Walker he bought the Ballarat flour-mills from Hassel & Monckton. Walker retired from the partnership in 1867.

Fry soon decided to launch his milling enterprise in other parts of the colony. He leased a mill from John Gillies at Horsham, erected mills at St Arnaud and, to cope with extended business, admitted his former employees, James Johnson, William Fraser and Thomas Roxburgh, into the firm. As farming progressed in the Wimmera and the district was opened by railway, Fry was one of the first millers to take advantage of the new source of supply, setting up branches and sub-agencies in the main townships; by 1880 his firm had additional mills at Ascot, Kingston, Natimuk, Dimboola and Donald. A network of wheat-gathering agencies and buying-stations was also established across Victoria from Kaniva to Numurkah. Headquarters in Melbourne, after 1870 the important centre for flour-milling, were essential and in 1881 Fry's firm leased offices in the A.M.P. buildings and later in Robb's buildings, Collins Street West. The firm was formed into a limited liability company in September 1884 with a subscribed capital of £88,000, increased to £200,000 in 1887. The first issue to the public was made in 1888, raising the authorized capital to £300,000. As well as making Fry's Five Stars Flour a household word in Australia, the company became one of the largest providers of wheat cargoes from Victoria, and undertook multiple services for farmers, from the supply of machinery to land transactions. Through its indenting business large sums were invested on behalf of clients in Australia and England.

Fry retired from the active management of his firm soon after it was floated into a company. He had been overseas several times and decided to devote his time to the agricultural and pastoral pursuits which had always interested and challenged him. He had acquired a property about twenty miles (32 km) from Glenorchy in 1868 and was one of the first farmers to use dry-farming techniques, demonstrating the potentiality of wheat-growing on the Wimmera plains. He also owned 1800 acres (728 ha) of rich land at Sutton Park, Newlyn, where he died aged 82 on 14 August 1903. He was predeceased in 1901 by his second wife Louisa Ann Coles, née Absolem, a widow whose two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Millers' Journal of Australasia, 27 Aug 1903, 23 May 1904
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15 Aug 1903.

Citation details

Carole Woods, 'Fry, James (1821–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fry-james-3579/text5541, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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