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Taylor, James (1820–1895)

by D. B. Waterson

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

James Taylor (1820-1895), squatter, investor and politician, was born in 1820 in London, son of John William Taylor, merchant, and his wife Ann. He probably reached Sydney as an assisted migrant in the James Pattison on 2 February 1840 and in 1840-46 acquired pastoral experience. He arrived on the Darling Downs in 1848 with sheep for the Dawson River district, becoming H. S. Russell's head stockman at Cecil Plains, a partner in 1856 and sole proprietor in 1859. He prospered by making the station a fattening and disposal centre for western sheep. By 1880 the 147,310 acres (59,615 ha) of freehold carried nearly 100,000 sheep and was supplemented by Dunmore, Goodar and Coomrith stations on the Western Downs and Mount Marlow on the Barcoo River.

Taylor entered Queensland politics as M.L.A. for Western Downs in 1860. Although a staunch supporter of the Downs squatters he joined Sir Charles Lilley's administration as minister for lands on 28 January 1868 as part of the price paid by Lilley for Downs and squatting support. Taylor administered his office from Toowoomba without scrupulous regard for the public good. Huge areas of Cecil Plains were withheld from selection and suddenly sold off to Taylor himself in 1870. This action was one of the reasons for his resignation on 3 May 1870 and the subsequent fall of Lilley. Taylor lost the next election.

Elevated to the Legislative Council in November 1871, he soon proved to be one of the most vigorous and obstructive of the squatting rear-guard. His attempt to recapture Toowoomba in 1881 was defeated by the W. H. Groom machine and Taylor concentrated on being a director of the Queensland Brewing Co., the Queensland Mercantile and Agency Co., and the Land Bank of Queensland.

Toowoomba was virtually Taylor's creation. Perceiving advantages in the 'swamp' with its key position he succeeded in replacing Drayton with Toowoomba as the regional centre of the Downs. Mayor of Toowoomba in 1890, he held much central real estate which was enhanced in value by judicious public works expenditure and private pressures. He was also intimately concerned with the School of Arts, the Queensland Turf Club, the Royal Agricultural Society, the Queensland Club and the Brisbane Diocesan Synod.

The onset of paralysis gradually destroyed Taylor's health, and his public activities were marked by increasing irascibility and conservatism. Survived by his wife Sarah, née Boulton, whom he had married on 16 February 1850, four of his five sons and three daughters, he died at Toowoomba on 19 October 1895 and was buried in the local cemetery.

Popularly known as the 'King of Toowoomba', Taylor was never a 'Pure Merino'. His philosophy was essentially the crude social Darwinism of his contemporary 'robber barons' in the United States of America. Though rough and ungrammatical he was a sound practical man of the frontier who boasted that he never read books. He derided all 'wild theorists', but his superb management and development of Cecil Plains, his role as the founding father of Toowoomba, and his wider impact on Queensland business rescue him from complete obloquy.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • O. de Satgé, Pages From the Journal of a Queensland Squatter (Lond, 1901)
  • Queenslander, 30 June 1866
  • Darling Downs Gazette, 21 Oct 1895
  • Week (Brisbane), 25 Oct 1895
  • B. R. Kingston, Land Legislation and Administration in Queensland, 1859-1876 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1970)
  • Hurd cutting book no 3 (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Taylor, James (1820–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-james-4693/text7771, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 August 2014.

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

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