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Rutherford, James (1827–1911)

by J. E. L. Rutherford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

James Rutherford (1827-1911), pastoralist and coach proprietor, was born on 24 October 1827 at Amherst, New York, United States of America, second son of James Rutherford and his wife Hetty, née Milligan. He became a schoolteacher, but decided to join his brother on the Californian goldfields. Finding no ship available he sailed in the Akbar for Melbourne arriving on 20 June 1853. After mining briefly near Bendigo he won a contract to cut timber near Ferntree Gully. He later sailed to Queensland and on his way back to Melbourne started the short-lived goldfield at Oban, New South Wales, and bought horses. After two more unprofitable trips he retired to Melbourne ill and almost penniless.

In 1857 Rutherford managed Cobb & Co. for some months but returned to his travelling and trading. In 1861 with several partners he bought the company, became its general manager and next year extended it to New South Wales, driving the leading coach when in June the convoy reached Bathurst, which became the company headquarters. In 1863 at Taradale, Victoria, he married Ada Nicholson. Rutherford soon became involved in Bathurst affairs; mayor in 1868 he resigned before the end of his term. A staunch Anglican, he was a trustee of the Church of All Saints for over forty years and served as a lay member of the synod. For thirty years he was treasurer of the Agricultural, Horticultural and Pastoral Association and later a vice-president. An early trustee of the District Hospital, he was president in 1886-1911; a committee-man of the School of Arts he was president in 1872-1911. He became a magistrate in 1872, was active in the society formed to expedite the railway and served on almost every committee formed for charitable purposes or for the betterment of the town. In the late 1870s Rutherford bought Hereford, near Bathurst, where he built a fine residence and invented an entirely new type of sheep dip.

Cobb & Co. bought its first station property in 1864 and expanded to Queensland in 1865. Victoria withdrew from the partnership in 1871 and Rutherford supervised the firm's great growth over the next forty years: in coaching, its factories and workshops in Bathurst, Goulburn, Hay, Bourke and Charleville, and in property and stock ownership particularly in the Warrego District of Queensland. He also acquired and managed stations on his own account. In 1873 with John Sutherland and others he started the Eskbank Ironworks at Lithgow. After a visit to America in 1876 he had to rehabilitate the company but the works were leased in the late 1880s and sold to William Sandford in the early 1890s. This experience and the continued entry of cheap iron, often as ballast, confirmed him as a protectionist, and led him in 1889 to co-found and manage the Bathurst National Advocate newspaper. The Parkes letters indicate that Rutherford may have considered entering parliament; a member of the protectionist National Club, in 1894 he became president of the Bathurst Protection League.

The 1890s brought great difficulties and the firm had to be reorganized after the death of the last partner, W. F. Whitney, in 1894. Coaching had ceased in New South Wales by 1900 but was still widespread in Queensland. In 1902 the company suspended operations because of the drought but was again restructured with Rutherford as general manager, the largest shareholder and chief guarantor. He apparently accepted personal liability for the station properties to enable the company to carry on as a coaching firm. He made regular tours of inspection and, returning from the far north in 1911, he became ill and was landed at Mackay where, survived by his wife, four of his five sons and six daughters, he died from acute bronchitis and heart failure on 11 September. His body was brought back to Bathurst for burial.

A superb organizer and manager, Rutherford was one of the great country entrepreneurs. In his lifelong travels his rather delicate and slight figure developed into a thickset frame that reflected his great strength and endurance. Although quick-tempered he kept on excellent terms with his employees and was very generous, especially to anyone in difficulties. He was strongly attached to his wife and family. His estate was valued for probate at over £128,000.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. L Rutherford, Cobb & Co. (Bathurst, 1971)
  • Bulletin, 12 June 1880, 30 July 1881
  • Australasian, 28 Sept 1889
  • National Advocate (Bathurst), 2 Dec 1892
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Aug 1899
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 Sept 1910, 20 Sept 1911
  • Henry Parkes letter (State Library of New South Wales)
  • H. P. Steel, Family papers, vols 1-4 (State Library of New South Wales), manuscript catalogue under James Rutherford (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

J. E. L. Rutherford, 'Rutherford, James (1827–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rutherford-james-886/text7415, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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