Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, James MacCallum (1868–1939)

by Donald Grant

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

James MacCallum Smith (1868-1939), newspaper proprietor and company director, was born on 26 April 1868 at Drumchardny, near Inverness, Scotland, son of James Smith, gamekeeper, and his wife Helen, née McPherson. In 1884 he joined the staff of the Northern Chronicle. In Queensland from 1888, Smith worked briefly on a country paper before becoming manager in Sydney of the Australian Mining Standard.

After moving to Coolgardie, Western Australia, in 1893, in partnership with Sidney Hocking Smith established three newspapers: the daily Golden Age (1894-98), the weekly Western Australian Goldfields Courier (1894-98), and the Goldfields Morning Chronicle (1896-98) with Alfred Chandler as editor. Partnered by Arthur Reid and largely on borrowed money, Smith established at Kalgoorlie in 1898 the first Sunday newspaper on the goldfields, the Sun, edited by Hugh Mahon. After the death of Frederick Vosper in 1901, Smith and Reid again borrowed money to buy the Perth Sunday Times; in 1912 Reid sold out to Smith, who remained sole owner until its sale in 1935 to Victor Courtney and John J. Simons.

For several years the Kalgoorlie Sun and the Sunday Times (edited by Andrée Hayward) pursued radical policies, exposing corruption, criticizing state institutions, entrepreneurs and social inequalities, and shared contents, including original verse and stories. Some historians believe that while the Sunday Times was always hinting at scandal and corruption, it was seldom explicit or accurate—many contemporaries blamed the paper's intemperate criticism for C. Y. O'Connor's suicide in 1902.

In 1906 the paper described secessionists as 'importing maniacs, nigger labour advocates, back-number politicians, and devotees of the parish pump'; however, next year seven articles on 'The Federal bondage' proclaimed a policy reversal and the start of over two decades of agitation for secession led and fed by the Sunday Times. For most of this period Chandler was editor; he reduced the paper's radicalism and its support for Australian writing. Liberal member for North Perth in the Legislative Assembly from 1914, Smith was eventually a delegate appointed by the State Labor government in 1934 to present the case for secession to the Imperial parliament.

Arthur Reid considered Smith 'an astute newspaper man', but prone to misjudge issues; whereas J. E. Webb, who had worked on his papers, found him 'a humourless Scot who made every pound a prisoner'. Nevertheless Smith had many friends and regularly entertained at Lake Preston Lodge, his property south of Perth, members of a loose, fraternal organization of which he was chief, including lawyers, bankers, politicians from all sides, rival press men and distinguished visitors. Many were victims of his 'inexhaustible predilictions for practical jokes'.

Smith remained in the Legislative Assembly until 1939, but his parliamentary contributions were negligible. At the 1930 election he omitted secession from his policy statement, despite his newspaper's advocacy of the cause. Indeed, while presenting the secession petition in London, he sold the Sunday Times to Simons's group, which was anti-secessionist, and soon accepted chairmanship of the new company.

Pragmatism also marked his business interests. He was deputy-chairman of the Western Australian Bank, a director of finance, insurance, industrial and mining companies, owned extensive pastoral and agricultural properties, and exhibited stud sheep, cattle and horses. Smith bequeathed most of his estate, sworn for probate at £111,215, to philanthropic, educational and cultural bodies, including £18,000 for a MacCallum Smith chair of veterinary science at the University of Western Australia.

Smith had married Kate Louise Lawrence about 1899. After her death in 1937 he married Aileen Healey, secretary, on 11 December. He had no children. Smith died of cancer on 6 August 1939 and, after a Presbyterian funeral, was buried in the family grave at Dunlichity, Scotland. Obituaries stressed his public spirit, the esteem he won from all classes of people, his avoidance of the limelight but enjoyment of philanthropy, and his concern for Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Reid, Those Were the Days (Perth, 1933)
  • V. Courtney, All I May Tell (Syd, 1956)
  • University Studies in History, 3, no 2, 1958, p 44, 4, no 2, (1963-64), p 96
  • Westerly, 2 Sept 1966
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 23 Mar 1930, 13 Aug 1939
  • West Australian, 11 Aug 1939
  • Harold Boas papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Donald Grant, 'Smith, James MacCallum (1868–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-james-maccallum-8476/text14905, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 19 September 2014.

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

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