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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stopford, James (1878–1936)

by Carol Gistitin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

James Stopford (1878-1936), trade unionist and politician, was born on 22 July 1878 at Rockhampton, Queensland, son of John Joshua Stopford, butcher, and his wife Elizabeth, née Wilson, both Irish born. As a child he moved with his family to Mount Morgan where his father was a miner. After attending state schools, James worked at the mine, qualified as an engine driver and became active in the union movement. On 24 April 1901 in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Mount Morgan, he married Ellen Williams with Catholic rites.

As Fitzroy delegate to the 1910 Labor-in-Politics convention at Townsville, Stopford secured the adoption of his proposals for compensation to miners afflicted with phthisis. At Mount Morgan he organized the General Workers' Union and the southern central district of the Australian Workers' Association which succeeded it. In 1912 he made an unsuccessful bid as Labor candidate for Mount Morgan, but won the seat in the Legislative Assembly in 1915 when Labor came to office under T. J. Ryan; after his electorate was abolished in 1932 by the Moore government's redistribution, Stopford won and held Maryborough until his death. In 1916-24 he served as second branch vice-president of the Australian Workers' Union and in 1918 was elected a delegate to its national convention; he also represented the union on the Queensland Central Executive of the Australian Labor Party.

Jimmy Stopford's parliamentary career included appointment in 1917 to the public works committee (chairman 1918). He was minister without portfolio in 1922, home secretary in 1923-29 and secretary for mines in the Forgan Smith cabinet in 1932-36. The welfare of miners was always Stopford's principal concern. During the 1917 strike on the issue of compulsory unionism, he had appeared for the A.W.U. and won its case before Justice McCawley; in 1921 and 1925 Stopford supported miners who struck against Mount Morgan Co. which had earlier sacked him for his union activities. When an underground fire followed the 1925 strike, he played an important role in quelling extremists and negotiating a new agreement in the hope that underground mining would be replaced by open-cut operations. In parliament Stopford supported the amendment to the Workers' Compensation Act of 1916 which had it incorporate provisions for industrial and mining diseases; furthermore, he helped to establish a sanitarium for pulmonary sufferers at Westwood, near Rockhampton. As secretary for mines during much of the Depression, he increased gold production by encouraging small companies and individuals who battled on isolated fields.

Solidly built, with a facial resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte, 'Stoppy' was a kind-hearted man, staunch in principles and friendships. He was a spontaneous and witty phrasemaker, a good teller of tales, imperturbable in the hottest debate and was never heard to say an unkind word in the House of any of his political opponents, even of W. M. Hughes whose conscription campaigns he resisted. Predeceased by his wife and five children, Stopford died of heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver on 30 November 1936 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Brisbane. After a state funeral he was buried in Toowong cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • The Labour Government of Queensland (Brisb, 1915)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty (1859-1919) Years (Brisb, 1919?)
  • C. Lack (ed), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • Queensland Government Mining Journal, 33, no 386, 15 July 1932, p 200, 37, no 439, Dec 1936, p 418
  • Maryborough Chronicle, 1 Dec 1936
  • Daily Record (Rockhampton), 7 Sept 1916
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 21 Sept 1925, 1 Dec 1936
  • Australian Workers Union records (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

Carol Gistitin, 'Stopford, James (1878–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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