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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Scott, James Reid (1839–1877)

by Neil Smith

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

James Reid Scott (1839-1877), explorer and politician, was born on 1 April 1839 at Earlston, Berwick, Scotland, elder son of Thomas Scott and his wife Ann, née Reid. Educated in Scotland, he arrived at Launceston with his younger brother in 1856 to live with his uncle James, who taught him surveying. On 26 April 1860 at St David's Cathedral, Hobart Town, he married Elizabeth Sarah Evans. He was made a justice of the peace in 1865 and in 1866-72 was a member of the House of Assembly for Selby.

Scott was a member of the 1869 royal commission on distillation which, despite opposition by the Tasmanian Temperance Alliance, advocated distillation of spirits in Tasmania to encourage the market for local grains. He was chairman of committees in 1871-72 and a member of the select committee inquiring into Port Arthur, which recommended the settlement's closure and accommodation of the prisoners at Hobart and elsewhere. He helped in the downfall of the (Sir) J. M. Wilson ministry in 1872 and was called on to form a new government, but declined. In 1872-77 he represented South Esk in the Legislative Council and held the portfolio of colonial secretary in 1872-73. During his parliamentary career he won repute as an honest, independent politician, courteous and unobtrusive and capable in administration, whose principal concern was the welfare of the colony.

From 1873 Scott gave much time to exploration, made several visits to lesser-known areas of the west and south-west, and prepared a number of papers for the Royal Society of Tasmania, to which he had been elected a fellow in 1868. In 1876 he reported to the minister for lands and works on 'Exploration in the Western Country', concerned chiefly with opening access tracks in western areas to encourage prospecting and mineral development. His last trip was made in March and April 1877 to the Pieman River and other places, during which he named Mount Tyndall after the scientist, and lakes Dora and Spicer after Hobart friends. He was later described as a good botanist and a hardy and enthusiastic explorer.

Scott died suddenly of congestive apoplexy at Carolside, his New Town home, on 25 August 1877. When he was buried at old St John's Church, New Town, on 29 August all Hobart government offices closed from noon; mourners at his funeral included the premier, colonial secretary and colonial treasurer; 'His Excellency's carriage followed'. His estate was sworn for probate at £8252.

Select Bibliography

  • F. C. Green (ed), A Century of Responsible Government 1856-1956 (Hob, 1956)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1869 (44), 1871 (127), 1876, (104), 1877 (27)
  • Royal Society of Tasmania, Papers, 1877
  • Examiner (Launceston), 23, 25, 27 July 1872, 31 July 1873, 28 Aug, 1 Sept 1877
  • Mercury (Hobart), 2 Nov 1872
  • correspondence file under J. R. Scott (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Neil Smith, 'Scott, James Reid (1839–1877)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 6

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