Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Aikenhead (1815–1887)

by L. L. Robson

This article was published:

James Aikenhead (1815-1887), businessman, editor and politician, was born in Montrose, Scotland. After commercial and legal training and experience in London business, he arrived at Launceston in the Janet in 1835. In 1841, after employment by a firm of merchants, he joined with others in establishing the Cornwall Fire and Marine Insurance Co. of which he was secretary until 1884. While in that position, he was active in having Launceston supplied with water.

With Rev. John West and J. S. Waddell, Aikenhead established the Examiner in 1842 and edited it until 1869 when he transferred his interest to his son William. He opposed the continued transportation of convicts and supported the establishment of free institutions in the colony, but his political views, reflected in the Examiner and in his public life, were generally conservative.

In 1835 he was one of the founders of the Launceston Bank for Savings, of which he was a manager till his death, and was also active in the foundation of the Launceston Chamber of Commerce. An investor in mining enterprises, he became a director of the Mt Bischoff Tin Mining Co. and of the Launceston branch of the Commercial Bank. He was placed on the Commission of the Peace in 1858 and twelve years later elected unopposed for the seat of Tamar in the Legislative Council, a position he held when he retired in 1885, having been chairman of committees for nine years from 1876.

Aikenhead worshipped at the Congregational Church, Tamar Street, was superintendent of its Sunday school and active in the Cornwall auxiliary branches of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the London Missionary Society. He helped to found the Mechanics' Institute and the Launceston Public Library and was a member of the Education Board.

In February 1840 he married Jane Priscilla, daughter of Rev. William Judson of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. There were twelve children of whom one son, William, and three daughters were alive when Aikenhead died on 9 July 1887 at Rosemont, High Street, Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • Launceston Advertiser, 3 Mar 1842
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 23 Feb 1858
  • Examiner (Launceston), 11 July 1887
  • correspondence file under Aikenhead (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Additional Resources

Citation details

L. L. Robson, 'Aikenhead, James (1815–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 June, 1815
Montrose, Forfarshire, Scotland


9 July, 1887 (aged 72)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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