Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Milson, James (1783–1872)

by David S. Macmillan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

James Milson (1783-1872), farmer, was born on 25 November 1783 at Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. He arrived in Sydney in the Albion in August 1806 and obtained employment on a farm at the Field of Mars (near Ryde). On 8 January 1810 at St Philip's Church, Sydney, he married Elizabeth Kilpack (1793-1850), his employer's daughter; he then described himself as 'servant and labourer'. By June 1820 he was living on a grant of 100 acres (40 ha) at Pennant Hills, where he ran 40 cattle. He had too little pasture for them and asked for more land. His request was supported by Robert Campbell who had been a fellow passenger in the Albion. In 1824 he was authorized to select 300 acres (121 ha) near Pennant Hills but when he was informed that this land had been granted to another he sought 50 acres (20 ha) at North Shore and 300 (121 ha) farther inland. By 1825 he was farming on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour; his house there was burnt down in a bush fire in November 1826 and the title deeds of his land at Castle Hill and Hunter's Hill were destroyed.

In the 1828 census he was recorded as a landholder, of Hunter's Hill, occupying 1600 acres (648 ha), with 220 cattle; in his will, signed in July 1829, he listed 220 acres (89 ha) purchased at Castle Hill, 640 acres (259 ha) at Wallumbie (Wollombi), 50 acres (20 ha) granted by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane at North Shore, and 5 acres (2 ha) on Neutral Harbour (Bay). In 1823-24 Milson was employed as 'keeper' of Government House. In 1832 he built on the North Shore a reservoir for watering ships. In later years he acquired more land and was a keen yachtsman. He died in Sydney on 25 October 1872, survived by four sons and one of his two daughters.

His eldest son James Milson (1814-1903), was born on 25 November 1814 at the Field of Mars in Sydney and educated at Dr O'Halloran's school, which he left at 16 to serve his mercantile apprenticeship with the Sydney agency of the Liverpool firm of Aspinall, Brown & Co. On his majority, he became a partner in the firm of Robert Campbell junior, his capital being provided by his father. Milson soon gained a wide knowledge of shipowning, importing and wool-buying, and won repute as one of Sydney's most progressive businessmen. The economic crisis in 1841-45 embarrassed the firm of Robert Campbell junior, its credit being over-extended and its bad debts numerous. It was wound up, and in 1846 Milson went into business on his own account. He built up a thriving mercantile concern in Sydney and in the 1850s embarked on pastoral ventures, especially in New England, where he bought Sugarloaf station in 1854. He began to interest himself in steam ferry services in Port Jackson and in September 1863 was one of the founders of the Milson's Point Ferry Co. which operated until March 1878, when it was sold and became the North Shore Ferry Co. In the 1860s Milson became a director of the Bank of New South Wales, the Colonial Sugar Refining Co., the Australian Gaslight Co., the Sydney Exchange and Assurance Co., and the Australian Steam Navigation Co. In 1868 he was deputy-mayor of East St Leonards and was the owner of Elamong and Cremorne estates. He acted as executor for his friend, William Charles Wentworth, and was associated with several other conservative politicians. In the 1870s, with other members of the Milson family, he took up pastoral holdings in central Queensland in conjunction with Oscar de Satgé, as well as on the Diamantina and Gregory Rivers.

Keenly interested in charities of various kinds, Milson was a director of the Sydney Sailors' Home and of the Benevolent Asylum. In 1881 he founded the Oberlin Friendly Aid Society 'to give friendly aid to cultured persons now indigent'. Like his father he was an enthusiastic yachtsman from the 1830s onwards and in 1862 was first vice-commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and commodore in 1863.

His 25-ton yacht Era was one of the best-known craft in Sydney in the 1860s. He was one of the first to see the possibilities of the Blue Mountains as a popular health resort. In his old age he opposed Federation.

Milson married twice: on 22 July 1852 to Marianne Grimes who died 5 November 1864, and on 24 November 1869 to Ann Stewart who died on 10 December 1888. He died on 13 January 1903, leaving three sons and three of his four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 16
  • R. H. Goddard, The Life and Times of James Milson (Melb, 1955)
  • manuscript catalogue under J. Milson (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

David S. Macmillan, 'Milson, James (1783–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/milson-james-2459/text3289, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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