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Graves, James Abraham Howlin (1827–1910)

by C. F. Doxford

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

James Abraham Howlin Graves (1827-1910), politician, was born on 14 December 1827 at Maryborough, Queen's County, Ireland, the elder son of Captain John Baker Graves and his second wife Anne, née Howlin. He was educated at the Ecôle Normale, Boulogne, and in Dublin at Feinaigle's School and in 1845 at Trinity College. On 5 October 1852 he married Julia Maria, daughter of William James Harvey of Kyle, County Wexford. There they lived on estates inherited through James's mother although early financial difficulties made them sell some land on 6 May 1858 in the Incumbered Estates Court to meet family charges. This sale eased their troubles but in November 1863 the Wexford Masonic Lodge noted with regret that 'for furtherance of your temporal prospects' he intended to migrate.

He landed at Melbourne in 1864 and became a pastoralist in the Riverina where, according to tradition, his family joined him three years later. In 1872 he went to Melbourne as sub-manager and inspector for the London and Australian Agency Corporation. He also dealt in Victorian properties and leased stations in the north-east and Gippsland where he pioneered the breeding of Red Poll cattle. A restless vigour also led him into such enterprises as development of the Port Welshpool fisheries, a directorship in Thomas Bent's Heights of Maribyrnong Estate Co. and ownership in 1888-89 of the Trades Hall Gazette.

Graves represented Delatite in the Legislative Assembly in 1877-1904 except for the 1900-1902 session. He was chairman of the police appeal board in 1877, an anti-squatter member of the royal commission on closed roads in 1878, commissioner to the Melbourne International Exhibition and a chairman of the visiting committee to the industrial and reformatory schools in 1879. He resigned from the royal commission on the police force in 1881 on becoming commissioner of trade and customs in the O'Loghlen ministry of 1881-83. Thereafter his services were little used for he had become notorious for his inconstancy of principle. (Sir) Graham Berry and James Service could not discover his final position on their reform bills of 1879 and 1880 until his crucial vote was cast against each. When a reform measure was adopted in 1881 Graves resurrected loyalty to the liberal platform which, he argued, Berry had betrayed, and his seconding of O'Loghlen's successful no-confidence motion won him the portfolio. Delatite electors were also familiar with his enthusiasm for Orange principles in Protestant areas and ecumenical spirit at meetings predominantly Catholic. He was especially skilled in subverting the electoral committees of opposing candidates. He was assiduous in serving Delatite's grazing, selector and mining interests but in Melbourne his 'lightning changes' suggested place-hunting, hard bargaining and unreliability. Alfred Deakin dismissed him as 'the most sinuous and uncertain of fence-sitters'. Others concluded that if Graves spoke in favour of a measure his vote would go against it. His many conservative beliefs and his representation of a farming district added to his reputation as an uncertain liberal supporter in a crisis. He opposed high tariffs but was ready to hold the trade and customs portfolio. Apart from the removal of duties on tea and wine, protection was scarcely altered while he was commissioner: the slipperiness of the ministerial benches and the creation of the royal commission into the tariff meant that the government asked little of Graves beyond staying power.

Later Graves continued to vote as an independent Liberal, opposing coalition from 1883 and later supporting Sir George Turner. His parliamentary experience was recognized by his election as deputy-chairman of committees in 1887 and chairman in 1903. He was always a strong critic of 'class legislation', whether emanating from the Legislative Council, landholders, radicals or Labor, and claimed that progress demanded 'practical, non-political measures', with government encouragement of the small, independent man of capital. He died at South Yarra on 23 November 1910, predeceased by his wife in 1901 and a son, James Warden, in 1906, and survived by his elder son, John Crosbie, and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1882)
  • J. Sadleir, Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer (Melb, 1913)
  • L. Monod (ed), The Red Poll Herd Book of Australasia, vol 1 (Melb, 1921)
  • A. Deakin, The Crisis in Victorian Politics, 1879-1881, J. A. La Nauze and R. M. Crawford eds (Melb, 1957)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1877-1900, 1903
  • Age (Melbourne), 4, 9, 12, 16 July 1881, 8, 16 Feb 1883, 24 Nov 1910
  • Table Talk, 15 Feb 1895
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Nov 1910
  • Toora and Welshpool Ensign, 2 Dec 1910
  • J. H. Graves estate papers (Equity Trustees Co., Melbourne)
  • Heights of Maribyrnong Estate Co. Ltd, package 1215 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

C. F. Doxford, 'Graves, James Abraham Howlin (1827–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/graves-james-abraham-howlin-3653/text5693, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 November 2018.

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

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