Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilshire, James (1771–1840)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

James Wilshire (1771-1840), public servant and manufacturer, was the second son and fifth child of William Wilshire, fellmonger, of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, and his wife Martha, née Thompson. He arrived at Sydney in the Royal Admiral in November 1800 recommended by John Palmer and was appointed to the Commissary Department. He served as clerk and store-keeper until March 1804 when he replaced William Chapman as acting deputy-commissary. He held this office until about August 1806; his temporary reinstatement in September 1808 by Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Foveaux was later confirmed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie at a salary of £91 5s. Posted to Windsor early in 1810, he asked to be appointed as a magistrate in compensation for removal from his 'large concern in the Tanning and soap making line' in Sydney. Macquarie agreed but Wilshire returned to Sydney after three months at Windsor and never sat on the bench. An order from the Commissary Department in England forbidding civil officers to conduct private business compelled him to resign in March 1812.

Soon after his arrival Wilshire acquired land at Lane Cove, which he increased to 245 acres (99 ha) in 1805. He obtained a further grant of 570 acres (231 ha) at Liberty Plains (Strathfield) in November 1808. Through the bankruptcy of his English agent in 1811 Wilshire suffered heavy losses and had to sell some of his land and cattle. In 1821 he petitioned Macquarie for more land to provide support 'for his young and increasing Family', and in October was given an additional 500 acres (202 ha) `as a grazing farm'.

On retirement from government service he devoted more attention to his manufacturing interests. In 1803 Wilshire, said to have been 'bred to the business in England', had established a tannery on Brickfield Hill which became the largest in the colony, and its operations continued until 1861. It employed between twenty and thirty hands in the 1820s, and produced all types of leather as well as soap, candles, glue and parchment. In 1815 and 1817 with Simeon Lord Wilshire petitioned the governor in vain for some protection for the leather industry. In 1826 he opened a slaughtering and victualling house at his wharf in Darling Harbour. By 1830 he was treating some 15,000 hides and skins a year at his tannery and was producing enough leather for the colony's needs, with a surplus of green hides for export to England.

Wilshire appears to have been well respected and a supporter of established authority. With many 'free and principal proprietors of landed property' he signed an address in support of Governor William Bligh on 1 January 1808, and was named as one of Bligh's original fifteen witnesses for the trial of Colonel George Johnston though he did not go to England for the court martial in 1811. He was also a signatory to the address in support of Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling in July 1829.

In February 1805 he married Esther (1775-1836), daughter of Robert Pitt; she had come free to the colony in 1801, and through her mother, Mary Matcham, was a connexion of Lord Nelson. By this marriage there were six sons and five daughters, of whom two died young and the others survived Wilshire. His wife predeceased him in May 1836. On his death in Sydney in September 1840 his manufacturing interests were taken over by his sons James Robert (1809-1860) and Austin Forrest (1811-1889). James Robert Wilshire became the second mayor of Sydney in 1844 and was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1855-56 and 1858-61 and the Legislative Assembly in 1856-57. The eldest son of James Wilshire, William Pitt (1807-1889), married a sister of Sir John Robertson and achieved some success as an artist.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 4-7, 10, 14, 15
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1862, 5, p 1158, 1865, 2, p 829
  • Sydney Gazette, 5 May 1804, 28 Mar 1812, 1 Feb 1826, 10 Sept 1840
  • Wilshire papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Wilshire, James (1771–1840)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilshire-james-2801/text3997, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 April 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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