This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972
James Huddart (1847-1901), shipowner, was born on 22 February 1847 at Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, son of William Huddart, shipbuilder, and his wife Frances, née Lindow. After schooling at St Bees in 1856-60 he joined his uncle, Captain Peter Huddart, who had a coal and shipping business at Geelong. About two years later James was sent to open a branch at Ballarat and in the mid-1860s he became sole proprietor when his uncle retired. On 1 September 1869 he married Lois, daughter of James Ingham, a consulting engineer in Ballarat.
The business expanded and in 1876 Huddart joined a rival, T. J. Parker, and they formed Huddart, Parker & Co. with J. H. Traill and Captain Thomas Webb as equal partners. By 1878 they had bought William Morley's coal business in Melbourne where they made their headquarters. They used sailing ships until 1880 when three modern steamers were bought. The expansion of the coastal trade in coal, cargo and passengers meant continual additions to the fleet and new branches at Newcastle in 1880 and Sydney in 1881. Regular trade with Queensland began in the mid-1880s, with Tasmania in 1889 and with South and Western Australia in 1890. In 1889 the firm became a limited liability company with a capital of £300,000, the four partners taking up equal shares and the dynamic Huddart becoming managing director.
Huddart was chairman of the Victorian Shipowners' Association in the 1870s, a commissioner of the Melbourne Harbor Trust in 1882-85 and 1889-92 and a committee member of the Melbourne Sailors' Home and the Victorian Shipwreck Relief Society in 1883-84. At conferences he vigorously advocated shipowners' rights, especially in the maritime strike of 1890, but he claimed that his full business life prevented him from entering politics.
Huddart's ambitions reached beyond the Australian coastal service. On his own account he had two steamships built in England in 1887, formed the New Zealand and Australian Steam Navigation Co. and entered the New Zealand trade in 1892. After March 1893 the financial crisis in Australia and the monopolistic position of the Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand made this venture impractical. Huddart, Parker & Co. inaugurated its own trans-Tasman service later the same year.
Thereafter, Huddart concentrated on a project which he believed God had entrusted to him, that of linking Canada and Australasia with England by a fast mail service, the 'All-Red Route'. By securing a transhipment agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway, he was voted a subsidy of £25,000 for ten years by the Canadian government. This enabled the Canada-Australia leg to begin. Subsidies were also sought from Australasia and Fiji but only New South Wales responded with an offer of £10,000 for three years.
In 1895 Huddart moved to England where he tried to establish a twenty-knot Atlantic service, the other sea leg of the 'All-Red Route'. It required much larger steamers and an annual subsidy of £225,000 of which Canada was expected to pay two-thirds and England one-third. Huddart's plan won full support from the Canadian government and the postmaster-general in London, but was opposed by vested interests and critics within the British government. After a change of ministry Huddart's plans were shelved and later rejected. The implied lack of confidence in his ability led a new government in Canada to reject the Atlantic scheme. Meanwhile he continued to promote the Canadian-Australasian service in hope of financial support from New Zealand. His contract demanded a fourteen-knot, four-weekly mail service and after four years a third steamer was needed, but his private fortune was exhausted and he had to seek finance elsewhere. A new Canadian-Australian Royal Mail Steamship Co. was floated with shares held equally by Huddart and the New Zealand Shipping Co. The Aorangi, 4268 tons, was bought and made her first run to Canada in May 1897, the year Huddart formally severed his connexion with Huddart, Parker & Co. However, the new firm had no working capital and the earlier profit expectations did not equal the heavy losses. In February 1898 the winding-up order was issued, a month after the New Zealand government subsidies were authorized.
In recognition of his efforts to establish the England-Canada-Australia route, Huddart was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society on 25 November 1895. His health had been deteriorating since 1893 and the mental strain of later events weakened his constitution. He died on 27 February 1901 at Eastbourne, England, and was survived by his wife, two of his three sons and a daughter. The oldest son joined the shipping firm of Birt & Co. Ltd in Brisbane; the second read engineering at Oxford; and the youngest, Cymbeline, midshipman in H.M.S. Doris, was killed on 25 November 1899 in the South African war.
G. R. Henning, 'Huddart, James (1847–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/huddart-james-3809/text6043, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 April 2017.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972