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Young, James Henry (1834–1908)

by W. G. McMinn

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

James Henry Young (1834-1908), by unknown photographer

James Henry Young (1834-1908), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, PX*D 624

James Henry Young (1834-1908), businessman and politician, was born on 15 May 1834 at Moorcourt near Romsey, Hampshire, England, son of James Young, farmer, and his wife Martha, née Druce. Educated at Winchester and in London, he went to sea with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. He arrived in Sydney in the Chusan on 3 August 1852, spent two unprofitable years on the goldfields, then returned to the sea with the Sydney & Melbourne Steam Packet Co. in 1854. In the late 1850s he settled at Port Macquarie where he became a harbour pilot and then opened a store at near-by Hursley. On 21 July 1859 at Port Macquarie he married Ellen (d.1928), daughter of Major William Kemp, 80th Regiment.

In the late 1860s Young was also postmaster at Hursley and agent for the Clarence & Richmond River Steam Navigation Co. An active magistrate from 1870, he was also deputy-sheriff in 1873-74. About 1876 he moved to Sydney where he set up as a wholesale produce merchant, developed coastal shipping interests and retained business connexions at Port Macquarie. In the 1880s he was a director of the Australian Prudential and Medical Assurance Society Ltd.

Young represented the Hastings and Manning in the Legislative Assembly in 1880-94, the Manning in 1894-1901 and Gloucester in 1904-07. A free trader he was prominent in the Opposition to (Sir) Alexander Stuart's government and in 1885-86 was minister of public instruction in Sir John Robertson's last cabinet. As Speaker in 1887-90, he had difficulty in dealing with the scenes of 'gross disorder' provoked by such parliamentary rowdies as J. McElhone, A. G. Taylor, W. P. Crick and W. N. Willis. In financial difficulties in 1890, he was forced to make a composition with his creditors, although he was not declared bankrupt. He handled with remarkable coolness the debates on his position; the motion for his removal was defeated on party lines, but he resigned the Speakership on 21 October, thereby forfeiting his salary of £1500. He had been a New South Wales commissioner for the exhibitions in Adelaide (1887) and Melbourne (1888).

Quickly recovering his financial position, Young was secretary for public works from August to October 1891 in Sir Henry Parkes's last ministry and held the same portfolio under (Sir) George Reid in 1894-99. His department's provision of work for the unemployed raised frequent complaints of favouritism: although his own probity was not questioned, in 1896 he seriously mishandled allegations of corruption against some of his senior staff and was rescued by Reid. Over the years he won repute as a local member; in the early 1880s he had urged, not entirely disinterestedly, the improvement of the north coast bar harbours. As secretary for public works he initiated large-scale projects of dubious value at the mouths of the Tweed, Bellinger, Nambucca, Macleay, Hastings and Manning rivers. His scheme to develop a deep-water harbour at Port Kembla, begun in 1896, was of more real use. He was also responsible for extending the railway from Maitland to Taree, but (Sir) William Lyne complained that Young's impracticable dependence on coastal shipping prevented him from pushing it further north.

In 1898 a royal commissioner,William Owen, cleared him of allegations of corruptly influencing the electors, and of abusing the powers of his office when he had assisted Sydney Smith against (Sir) Edmund Barton in the 1897 by-election for the Hastings; but he rebuked Young for speaking indiscreetly at the twelve meetings he addressed. On 3 July 1899 he became secretary for lands in a cabinet reshuffle. Survived by his wife, two sons and six daughters, he died of heart failure at his home, Devonia, Archer Street, Chatswood, on 9 May 1908 and was buried in the Anglican section of Gore Hill cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £1955.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • G. H. Reid, My Reminiscences (Lond, 1917)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1890, 4533-47, 4622, 1896, 178-204
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1890, 1, 375, 799
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1898, part 1, 1155
  • Town and Country Journal, 16 Jan 1886, 7 Nov 1891
  • Sydney Mail, 3 Mar 1888, 25 Oct 1890
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 1908
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • commissioner's notebook, 2/6402 (State Records New South Wales)
  • CO 201/598/154.

Citation details

W. G. McMinn, 'Young, James Henry (1834–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/young-james-henry-4903/text8209, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 September 2014.

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

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