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Muramats, Jirō (1878–1943)

by D. C. S. Sissons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Jirō Muramats (1878-1943), pearler and storekeeper, was born on 6 September 1878 at Kobe, Japan, second son of Sakutarō Muramatsu and his wife Sada of Fujieda, Shizuoka prefecture.

Sakutarō set up in business at Cossack, Western Australia, in 1891 as an importer and storekeeper for the Japanese community. He died there in 1898 and his tombstone is one of the few surviving relics in that ghost-town. Jirō arrived in 1893. He attended Cossack State School and in 1895-97 boarded at Xavier College, Melbourne. On his father's death he, with his elder brother Tsunetarō, reconstituted the family firm as J. & T. Muramats, which operated in Australia until World War II. Jirō managed operations in Australia; Tsunetarō, until his death in 1925, those in Japan. On 17 January 1905 Jirō married Hatsu Noguchi (born in Nagasaki) who had arrived in Australia in 1896; they had one daughter.

In Western Australia coloured aliens had since 1892 been denied pearling-boat licences. Muramats was in 1899 granted naturalization in Victoria which became effective throughout Australia in 1904. He received his first boat licence in 1906 and acquired another nine before Western Australia in 1912 banned the grant of new licences to all persons of Asiatic or African race. But, like others who combined pearling, storekeeping and the provision of credit, his influence extended beyond his own luggers. In 1915 the local Customs officer reported that most of the freehold properties at Cossack belonged to him and that seven more luggers (whose owners were required to purchase their provisions and dispose of their shell through him) were under mortgage to him, giving him control of more than half the Cossack pearling fleet. In the years that followed, using a floating station, he operated his luggers up to 250 miles (402 km) south and 100 miles (161 km) north of that port.

Following the revival of pearling in Darwin in 1928, Muramats moved five of his luggers there during 1929 and 1930. Thereafter Darwin was his domicile, although he continued to make regular visits to his Cossack establishment. In 1931 he and two other Darwin pearlers alone stood out against a national scheme to curtail production voluntarily and, as a result, the minister imposed drastic restrictions under the Northern Territory Pearling Ordinance. This act of independence was held against Muramats next year when he sought Federal permission to purchase seven luggers at Port Hedland. The minister vetoed the transaction, informing Muramats that Federal policy on master-pearlers of non-European race conformed with that of Western Australia and that he would not be permitted to increase his eight current licences in Darwin and Western Australia beyond the ten allotted to him in Western Australia in 1912.

The political rights conferred by naturalization had also proved hollow. Amendments to the Western Australian Electoral Act in 1907 disfranchised British subjects who were 'aboriginal natives of Australia, Asia, Africa or the islands of the Pacific'. As the Federal franchise was linked to the State franchise, this deprived Muramats of the vote in Federal elections also. In 1923 he appealed to the High Court of Australia maintaining that, since the Ainu were the aboriginal natives of Japan, he was entitled to the vote. Justice Higgins dismissed the appeal, arguing that by such reasoning the Australian Aborigines would be entitled to the franchise as they had arrived after the Tasmanian Aborigines and that this was patently contrary to the intention of the legislature.

In December 1941 Muramats was interned along with the Japanese community. He died at Tatura Internment Camp, Victoria, on 7 January 1943 of cancer. In 1946 his widow returned from Tatura to Cossack, where in the late 1950s she was virtually the last inhabitant. She died at Yokohama, Japan, on 12 August 1959 leaving an estate in Western Australia of £7670.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Thompson, Cossack: 1863 1887 (mimeograph, Roeboume, WA, 1959)
  • photograph of Jiro and Hatsu Muramats in M. A. Bain, Full Fathom Five (Perth, 1982), p131
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, 32 (1923), p 500
  • Japanese Foreign Ministry Archives, MT 3.8.2.275 (mfm G16163, National Library of Australia)
  • A1 24/24078 31/1339, A433 41/2/2244, A659 43/1/7347 (AAO)
  • J. & T. Muramats business papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Fisheries 24/33 (State Records Office of Western Australia).

Citation details

D. C. S. Sissons, 'Muramats, Jirō (1878–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/muramats-jiro-7689/text13459, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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