Attention Internet Explorer User

Your web browser has been identified as Internet Explorer .

In the coming months this site is going to be updated to improve security, accessibility and mobile experience. Older versions of Internet Explorer do not provide the functionality required for these changes and as such your browser will no longer be supported as of September 2020. If you require continued access to this site then you will need to install a different browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Lilly, James (1845–1905)

by Toby Manford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

James Lilly (1845-1905), by Crown Studios, 1890s

James Lilly (1845-1905), by Crown Studios, 1890s

State Library of Western Australia, 001548D

James Lilly (1845-1905), businessman and shipping agent, was born on 2 February 1845 at Launceston, Van Diemen's Land, son of James Lilly and his wife Hannah, née Dillon. In 1869 he went to Victoria and married Mary Hannah Field of Hawthorn. He soon formed a partnership with Charles V. Robinson, also of Launceston, and in 1871 they became established as shipping agents in Belfast (Port Fairy).

In 1876 Lilly entered into negotiations with the Western Australian government for a subsidy to run a coastal shipping service to replace the irregular sailings provided by the Georgette, which had foundered at Busselton. In 1877 with his family he left for Fremantle in the Rob Roy, which became the first steamer to ply the Western Australian coastal trade on a regular basis. The Rob Roy made monthly visits to Geraldton, Fremantle, Vasse and other intervening ports, connecting at Albany with Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.'s steamers carrying mails to and from the colony. In 1879 the Otway was acquired from Victoria and brought into the service to provide the first direct link between Western Australia and the eastern colonies. Fortnightly sailings between Victoria, South Australia and Albany were arranged to coincide with the arrival of the Rob Roy from north-western ports. As trade expanded a third steamer, Macedon, was bought to increase the sailings, but she was soon wrecked and replaced by the Otway. When the second government contract expired in 1882 Lilly sold his shipping interests to the Adelaide Steamship Co. for whom he became local manager. In 1894 Lilly owned the schooner Bittern on the Mauritius run. His company also handled the Western Australian business of the Australasian Steam Navigation Co. Ltd, until its own agent was appointed in 1897. He had used his capital to acquire much property in Fremantle and in 1895 with George Swinburne was responsible for founding the Fremantle Gas and Coke Co. of which he was chairman until 1905.

The shipping service provided by James Lilly & Co. was often described in parliament as 'excellent' and from all accounts he was held in high regard by the Fremantle community. Fiery tempered but known as 'one of the old school', he earned the title of 'Father of Western Australian shipping'. A regular participant in local affairs, he was a justice of the peace and a member of the Fremantle Hospital Board from its inception. He died from an overdose of strychnine at Claremont on 18 April 1905 and was buried in the Church of England cemetery at Fremantle. He was survived by five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Osburne, The History of Warrnambool, 1847-1886 (Prahran, 1887)
  • J. K. Hitchcock, The History of Fremantle … 1829-1929 (Fremantle, 1929)
  • J. G. Wilson (ed), Western Australia's Centenary 1829-1929 (Perth, 1929)
  • Herald (Fremantle), 7 Apr 1877
  • Mail (Fremantle), 19 Apr 1905
  • West Australian, 19, 20 Apr 1905
  • CSO records (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Toby Manford, 'Lilly, James (1845–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 16 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020