Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Torpy, James (1832–1903)

by Deirdre Morris

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

James Torpy (1832-1903), miner and hotel-keeper, was born at Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland, son of James Torpy, miller, and his wife Jane, née Mortimer. He worked in Manchester and Liverpool before sailing for Victoria in 1853. After a time at the goldfields he went to New South Wales and mined successfully at Turon (Sofala).

Torpy was a hotel-keeper at Lambing Flat (Young) in 1861 when the anti-Chinese riots broke out. As a leader of the Miners' Protection League he addressed a meeting in March 1861 that was called to explain the miners' position to the premier (Sir) Charles Cowper. Stating that 'the instinct of self-preservation impels us to oppose their coming here', Torpy argued that if the Chinese were allowed to flood on to the diggings the Europeans would be forced off and the gold quickly exhausted. In July he was chosen as miners' delegate to present a petition to Governor Sir John Young, but while in Sydney was arrested on 5 August and charged with riot, unlawful assembly and wilful destruction of Chinese property on 30 June at Burrangong; denying the allegations, he was allowed bail and appeared in the Burrangong court. The charges were dismissed as the prosecution's witnesses could not be found.

At the time of Torpy's defence of miners' rights, he lost much support when a mining claim in which he was principal shareholder was sold to some Chinese. He was accused of acknowledging the right of the Chinese to work on the field. In a letter to the Miner and General Advertiser he asserted that he had not been inconsistent and that he 'would rather make a profit out of an enemy than a friend'.

On 3 June 1862 Torpy married Isabella Jane Walwyn at St Saviour's Church of England, Goulburn. He then lived at Forbes before going to Orange where, by 1867, he was licensee of the Commercial Hotel and later of the Wellington Inn. In 1876 he retired from the hotel business, visited Ireland and, on his return to Orange, became a wine and spirits merchant. He was elected alderman in 1878 and was mayor of Orange in 1879 and 1880. While mayor he became acquainted with Sir Henry Parkes who supported his attempt in 1882 to enter the Legislative Assembly, but he was defeated by Thomas Dalton. In 1884 he became a guarantor of the Western Daily Advocate and proprietor in 1886. He was an active member of the Provincial Press Association.

Torpy represented Orange in 1889-94 in the Legislative Assembly as a protectionist. In 1890 he opposed Federation as unnecessary but by 1901 favoured Orange as the site for the federal capital. In July 1894 he was one of those nominated to the Legislative Council by Sir George Dibbs but was rejected by Governor Sir Robert Duff.

An original member of the Athenaeum Club, Torpy was vice-president of the Orange Jockey Club, president of the Central Western Rugby Football Union, a director of the Orange Permanent Building Society and president of the Orange Mechanics' School of Arts. He belonged to the Orange Volunteer Rifle Corps. He continued to write for his newspaper until a few days before he died in Sydney on 22 June 1903 of broncho-pneumonia. Buried in Church of England cemetery, Orange, he was survived by his wife, four daughters and four sons.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1861-62, 1, 809, 1871-72, 2, 335
  • P. A. Selth, ‘The Burrangong (Lambing Flat) riots 1860-61: a closer look’, JRAHS, 60 (1974), and ‘James Torpy and the “Engine Claim”’, Royal Australian Historical Society, Newsletter, Jan 1975
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Oct, 1 Nov 1880, 23 June 1903
  • Sydney Mail, 30 Aug 1890
  • Bulletin, 2 July 1903
  • Town and Country Journal, 24 June, 1 July 1903
  • Central Western Daily, 27 July 1967
  • G.C.J., ‘Some recollections of James Torpy’, newspaper cuttings (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/615.

Citation details

Deirdre Morris, 'Torpy, James (1832–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/torpy-james-4736/text7863, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 November 2014.

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

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