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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hill, James Richard (1836–1898)

by G. P. Walsh

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

James Richard Hill (1836-1898), banker and financier, was born on 22 February 1836 in Sydney, the third son of Richard Hill and his wife Henrietta, née Cox. He joined the Bank of New South Wales as a junior clerk on 23 May 1851 and worked at head office as clerk, ledger-keeper and teller until October 1856 when he took charge of the bank's agency at the Rocky River diggings near Armidale. In November 1857 he became manager in Tamworth and next August was transferred to the branch at Tarrangower (Maldon), Victoria.

In February 1862 he went to Dunedin, New Zealand, as superintendent of the bank's gold-buying agencies in Otago and in September became manager at Christchurch. In 1868 he was appointed inspector for New South Wales and in 1870 investigated irregularities in New Zealand where in 1871 he became inspector. Finding the bank's affairs in a sorry state, Hill energetically worked to restore the position. His letters revealed him as touchy, cautious, hard-working and likeable, but his temper was fierce as recalcitrant branch managers discovered. A hypochondriac prone to accident, he was thrown on his head from a Cobb & Co. coach, bitten by the only venomous creature in New Zealand and worked himself almost to a breakdown in the 1870s. In the 1879 financial crisis he wrote to the general manager, Shepherd Smith, that 'downright hard work and the worry and anxiety which have accompanied it, have had a most telling effect on me … it has aged me before my time', and sought permission to retire. However, he stayed on until 1882 when he took eighteen months' leave. He resigned in 1884 and went to Sydney to assume charge of the Wentworth and Cooper estates, to whose owners he was connected by marriage.

In 1886 Hill became a director of the bank and in 1894 was elected its first president to have risen from junior clerk. Widely recognized as a shrewd financier, he was deputy-chairman of the Australian Mutual Provident Society, a director of Tooth's brewery, manager of the Australian interests of (Sir) Robert Tooth, a member of the Union Club and in 1884 a commissioner of fisheries. Active in public charity, he was a director of Sydney Hospital and of the Aborigines Protection Association. He died after a lingering illness at Vaucluse on 23 August 1898 and was buried in the family vault in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. His will was sworn at under £11,000. At St Michael's Church, Sydney, he had married on 9 February 1867 his cousin Sophia Helena, eldest daughter of George Hill. His wife and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Sinclair and W. F. Mandle, Open Account: A History of the Bank of New South Wales in New Zealand, 1861-1961 (Wellington, 1961)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 19 Sept 1898
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Feb 1867, 24, 26 Aug 1898
  • Bank of New South Wales Archives (Sydney).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Hill, James Richard (1836–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 4

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