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Heathershaw, James Thomas (1871–1943)

by K. R. Page

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

James Thomas Heathershaw (1871-1943), public servant, was born on 7 May 1871 at Beaufort, Victoria, twelfth child and fourth surviving son of Rev. Henry Heathershaw from the Isle of Man, and his wife Amelia Nancy, née Robilliard, from the Island of Jersey, Channel Islands, who migrated after their marriage in 1853. Henry served in the Victorian Primitive Methodist ministry until 1899 as 'an oldtime popular preacher'.

The boys shared a patient industriousness and respectable rewards: for forty-two years Henry Robilliard (1855-1933) worked for the London Chartered Bank, retiring as a branch manager in 1915; William Philip (1868-1929) toiled as a clerk in the Chief Secretary's Office of the Victorian Public Service in 1884-1901, then rose steadily to become under-secretary in 1924; Sydney Arthur (Sid) (1870-1947) followed William into the public service in 1887, received his first promotion in 1902 and was secretary of the police department in Victoria in 1920-35.

James, educated at Flinders School, Geelong, entered the Victorian Treasury as a clerk in March 1889, transferring to the Federal Treasury in 1902. Ledger-keeper in 1904, he was sub-accountant in 1907 and accountant in 1916. In 1926 he became acting assistant secretary and, following the departure to London of James Collins, acting secretary. He was appointed secretary to the Treasury, the head of the department, on 3 August and was appointed C.B.E. in June next year.

Most of Heathershaw's career was concerned with the administrative responsibilities of the Treasury. However, in a memorandum to Joe Lyons on the economy in September 1930 he stressed the need for 'equality of sacrifice by the whole community' and on his retirement he asserted some Commonwealth treasurers had not an idea of their own. (The treasurers whom he did admire were Stanley (Viscount) Bruce, Edward Theodore and (Sir) Walter Massy-Greene.) Described as a 'courteous gentleman' Heathershaw worked harmoniously with his juniors Stuart McFarlane and (Sir) Henry Sheehan, the latter succeeding him. In April 1932 deteriorating health prevented Heathershaw continuing as secretary and led him to accept transfer to the position of assistant secretary (pensions, etc.) at a salary reduced from £1700 to £994. He retained the increasingly important office of Commonwealth pensions commissioner, superintending the payment of invalid and old age pensions and maternity allowances, and also dealt with Commonwealth workers' compensation and insurance matters.

After staying on beyond the normal date of retirement in May 1935 to complete a reorganization of the pensions area of the department, Heathershaw retired in December, returning thankfully to Elwood, Melbourne, to practise his recreations of golf and gardening and to deplore the increasingly partisan character of political life. He died on 25 July 1943 at Oakleigh railway station of coronary vascular disease and was buried in Kew cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £646. His wife Rosa Ethel, née Rodway, whom he had married at the Primitive Methodist Church, Carlton, on 7 March 1901, predeceased him; he was survived by a son and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Today (Melbourne), 14 May 1932
  • Punch (Melbourne), and Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 13 Sept 1927
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 Nov 1903, 25 Nov 1929, 25 Mar 1933, 28 Feb 1935, 26 July 1943
  • MS 4851, box 2, folder 14 (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

K. R. Page, 'Heathershaw, James Thomas (1871–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heathershaw-james-thomas-6625/text11411, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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