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Purcell, James (1874–1953)

by M. French

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

James Purcell (1874-1953), dairy industry leader, was born on 25 November 1874 at Drayton, Queensland, eldest son of Irish parents Andrew Purcell, farm-labourer, and his wife Ellen, née Fox. Educated at Ramsay State School, he left early to help his father to produce one of Australia's finest dairy herds at Loughma Castle, named after a Norman baron from whom they proudly claimed descent.

About the time of his marriage to Jane Margaret Hanly on 23 April 1897 in St Patrick's Catholic Church, Toowoomba, Purcell secured a farm on the repurchased Westbrook estate. In 1904 he was the first to purchase better land, which he named Bringalilly, on the resumed Eton Vale run near Hodgson Vale. With its modern machinery and a ten-room residence with spacious verandahs, the dairy became the show-place of the district. Over six feet (183 cm) and well-built, Purcell served on the Clifton and Cambooya Shire councils, as president of the Cambooya Race Club and vice-president of the Toowoomba Rugby League.

On 14 May 1904 he helped to form the Downs Co-operative Dairy Co. (later Association) Ltd, and as a founding director (1904-32) and chairman (1912-17, 1918-19, 1920-31) played a vital role in the equalization of returns and in stabilizing the dairy industry, especially in the 1920s. In 1925 he became a founding member of the Queensland Butter Board (chairman 1926-50) and member of the Queensland Dairy Products Stabilisation Board (chairman 1930-50). He was the first vice-president of the Queensland Council of Agriculture, established under the Primary Producers' Organization and Marketing Act, 1922.

His main contribution to the dairy industry, however, was in the Federal sphere. During World War I he and his brother William (1876-1949) were leading members of a delegation to Prime Minister W. M. Hughes which inspired the formation of a Federal pool to sell butter and cheese surpluses to Britain; their insistence secured values for the first sale well above market prices. On expiry of the Imperial contract in 1921, James Purcell, like C. D. Meares in New South Wales and H. W. Osborne in Victoria, supported the creation of voluntary pools to control dairy exports and stabilize values at 'reasonable' levels. The Australian Dairy Produce Export Control Board established in 1924 culminated in the application of the Thomas Paterson plan in 1925-26. When the plan faltered during the Depression, the lobbying of Purcell and others led to the formation of the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalisation Committee Ltd of which he was first chairman (1934-50).

Purcell retired from all positions in October 1950. During the testimonial dinner afforded him in Toowoomba by Federal, State, and British political and industrial leaders, his farewell speech encapsulated his devotion to the dairy farmer: 'I never saw a traitor, never saw a man who had tried to do an underhand action among the men with whom I have been associated in the dairy organizations'. Purcell's leadership, dominant personality, tolerance, and skilled chairmanship had enabled him to advance the cause of the industry and the men he loved. The equalization scheme stands as his monument.

After a long illness Purcell died at Toowoomba on 5 November 1953 and was buried in the Catholic section of Toowoomba cemetery. He was survived by two sons and two daughters, his wife and third son having predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 1 (Brisb, 1919)
  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • L. R. Macgregor, British Imperialism (NY, 1968)
  • B. Hinchcliffe (ed), They Meant Business (Toowoomba, 1984)
  • Toowoomba Chronicle, 14 May, 29 Oct 1905, 24 Oct 1950, 6, 7 Nov 1953
  • Darling Downs Gazette, 5 Oct 1920.

Citation details

M. French, 'Purcell, James (1874–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/purcell-james-8131/text14205, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 15 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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