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Gill, James Howard (1857–1899)

by J. C. H. Gill

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

James Howard Gill (1857-1899), solicitor, was born on 31 August 1857 at Ipswich, Queensland, the second son of Richard Gill and his wife Honora, née Howard. His father, born on 8 March 1819 in London, son of George Gill, trader, and his wife Mary, née Woodcroft, had arrived in Sydney on 24 December 1841 and in January 1843 went to South Brisbane. There he set up as a saddler but in 1849 moved to Ipswich in hope that the squatter capital would offer better opportunities for his business. On 1 October 1854 he was appointed the Ipswich postmaster at £400 a year. As a public servant he was not permitted to stand for the new Queensland parliament in 1860, but as an original subscriber to the Ipswich Grammar School, Queensland's first secondary school, he was appointed a trustee and in 1890-92 chairman of trustees. On 11 March 1848 he had married Honora Howard; they had two sons and a daughter. After Honora died (1873) Gill married Mary Anne Boyd on 9 November 1875. He died on 21 December 1913 in Brisbane and was buried in the Ipswich cemetery.

James attended Ipswich Grammar School and was dux in 1873-74. He showed promise of a brilliant academic career but in 1875 failed to win a proposed government scholarship in the University of Sydney because the institution of these awards had been temporarily deferred. On 6 March 1876 he was articled to G. V. Hellicar of Thompson & Hellicar, solicitors, and became active in founding and directing the Queensland Law Students' Association. Among his associates was John George Appel, whose sister Annie Louise he married at Brisbane on 31 August 1882. Gill had been admitted as a solicitor in April 1881 and started a practice at Ipswich. In 1884 he entered into partnership with Appel who stayed in Brisbane. When the government decided in 1885 to appoint its own crown solicitor Gill was offered the post and accepted. Although his salary of £1000 was much lower than his receipts from private practice he was persuaded that the new office would lead to further advancement and even to the bench. As crown solicitor Gill won repute, not least in 1892-93 when he was active in the arbitration of John Robb's railway contracts, the shearers' cases after the strikes and the settlements after failure of the Queensland National Bank. His most notable work was his share in drafting the Queensland Criminal Code, a monumental achievement undertaken by the chief justice, Sir Samuel Griffith, in 1894 and passed by parliament in 1899.

Gill's hopes of advancement were never realized. In 1893 he fell foul of the attorney-general, Thomas Byrnes, first over political matters and then over his staff. Family tradition maintains that Byrnes wanted to appoint one of his favourites in Gill's place. In 1893 when the wages of civil servants were reduced by 20 per cent, Gill's salary was cut to £600; its increase to £700 in 1896 was also out of accord with the general rise. His health suffered under the strain of work and conflict with Byrnes and he was twice given leave before he died of tuberculosis on 11 October 1899. He was survived by his wife, who in December 1899 received a government grant of £800, and by a son and two daughters. Some of his descendants still practise law in Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • Brisbane Courier, 12 Oct 1899
  • Supreme Court and Justice Department records (Queensland State Archives)
  • Gill family papers (privately held).

Citation details

J. C. H. Gill, 'Gill, James Howard (1857–1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gill-james-howard-3614/text5613, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 17 November 2018.

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

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