Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tait, James McAlpine (1828–1911)

by Bernard Barrett

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

James McAlpine Tait (1828-1911), newspaperman, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, son of John Tait, journalist and newspaper proprietor, and his wife Margaret, née Allison. When his father died in 1836 James was adopted by George Troup, a Scottish newspaper proprietor who trained him as a compositor and reporter in Belfast, Ireland. Tait was later a compositor for Troup's Glasgow Daily Mail, and when it ceased in 1851 he went to the United States of America and worked on the New York Herald. Next year he arrived in Victoria in the Revenue and spent two moderately successful years on the Mount Alexander and Ovens goldfields. A compositor on the Melbourne Argus in 1854-55 and on the Herald in 1856-64, he was also the registered printer of the Melbourne evening Daily News and weekly Dispatch, both short lived. On 25 August 1854 at the home of Rev. Adam Cairns he married Margaret Borthwick; they had three sons and two daughters.

After his marriage Tait settled at North Fitzroy, then an outer suburb. He supported agitation to sever the Fitzroy Ward from the city of Melbourne in 1858, thereby contributing to the curtailment of the original city of Melbourne and to the development of the present pattern of independent suburban municipalities. He also instigated and financed the pressure that resulted in the Fitzroy municipal district taking in North Fitzroy.

In December 1864 with a partner, Tait bought the Collingwood-Fitzroy weekly Observer from Graham Berry. It circulated in the most populous suburbs and, with Tait as editor, often rivalled the metropolitan papers in quality and influence; contributors included John Pascoe Fawkner and Dr T. Embling. Collingwood and Fitzroy were centres of agitation for tariff protection for local industry, and the Observer, under both Berry and Tait, became the leading protectionist organ in the suburbs in opposition to free trade interests in the city. In association with local parliamentarians, councillors, businessmen and workers, Tait's Observer championed the growth of factories, then usually of a noxious nature, along the River Yarra. Editorials predicted that Collingwood would become the Manchester of the Southern Hemisphere, with the Yarra as its canal. In 1866 after a partnership dispute, Tait sold his interest in the Observer (which was briefly renamed the Manufacturer) and struck out on his own with a new paper, the Collingwood-Fitzroy Advertiser. By 1870 he had regained the Observer cheaply; he then amalgamated the papers as the Advertiser and Observer, later shortening this again to the Observer that he operated until its last issue in 1909.

Tait was radical on certain issues: he supported land reform in the 1860s, abolition of state aid to church schools, the eight-hour movement, reduction of franchise qualifications, reform of the Upper House and payment of members. In 1868-69 he helped to expose political corruption involving C. E. Jones. An early propagandist for technical schools in Victoria, he helped to establish one in Collingwood in 1870. He campaigned against Federation in the 1890s and was unsympathetic to Trades Hall politics. A justice of the peace, he was connected with the management of St George's Presbyterian Church, Collingwood, for thirty years. Aged 83, he died in his home in Collingwood on 11 December 1911, and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery, survived by a son and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Observer (Collingwood), 1892-93, Apr 1897, 3 Jan 1907, 23 Dec 1909
  • A. H. B. Barrett, The Making of an Industrial Environment: Collingwood, Victoria, 1851-91 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1970).

Citation details

Bernard Barrett, 'Tait, James McAlpine (1828–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tait-james-mcalpine-4684/text7751, 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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