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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Angus, James (1836–1916)

by John Atchison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

James Angus (1836-1916), railway contractor, was born on 8 November 1836 at Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland, son of James Angus, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Cuthbert. He was educated locally, and became a turner and sawyer; on 29 June 1863 at Blackford he married Charlotte de Vernet Moodie and migrated with her to New Zealand. As a sawmiller at Invercargill, he was well placed to make the classical move into railway contracting and, for example, supplied 50,000 sleepers for the Bluff-Winton-Kingston railway. When the initial railway boom ended in 1879 Angus moved to Sydney where an association with J. Monie and E. Topham led to the formation of Topham, Angus & Co., a firm which built a duplication of Gjedsted's tramway and the initial tracks for steam-trams in the city and suburbs. After this partnership was dissolved about 1884, Angus & Co. played a major role in railway construction in New South Wales and Victoria, winning in the former colony contracts worth £606,943, including duplication of the Granville-Picton line in 1888-92.

In 1890 Angus bought the Minchinbury estate at Rooty Hill from Charles Mackay, enlarged the vineyard and cellars and, from 1901 with Leo Buring as manager, began making sparkling wines. Minchinbury champagne won prizes at exhibitions in Australia and London, including gold medals in 1909-12 at the Brewers' exhibitions, London. In November 1913 he sold the estate of phylloxera-resistant vines, the entire stock, good-will and book debts to Penfold & Co. for about £50,000, then a record in the Australian wine-trade. Angus & Son kept the larger part of the property to run sheep.

Although still resident at Artornish Hall, Rooty Hill, Angus concentrated on interests in the Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd, the Vale of Clwydd Colliery Ltd, the Clyde Brick Co. and the New South Wales Cement, Lime & Coal Co. Ltd. He was also a vice-president of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, a foundation member of Blacktown Shire Council, a life member of the Nepean Cottage Hospital board, an advocate of the Warragamba dam, a leading elder of the Presbyterian Church and vice-president of Burnside Presbyterian Orphan Homes. Angus was accidentally killed at Rooty Hill railway station on 12 April 1916 by the 'Fish' express; he was survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. His estate was sworn for probate at £172,862.

Angus's second son JOHN HENRY SMITH was born at Invercargill on 11 August 1875. He accompanied his family to Sydney and was educated at Newington College and at Scots College, where he was the first head-prefect. He gained experience on the New Zealand & Australian Land Co. Ltd's Pareora station at St Andrews, New Zealand, then was taught by his father the 'Angus tradition of home building, temple building, city building and empire building'. He ran the retained part of Minchinbury and acquired Bareenong, near Forbes. After his father's death he became chairman of Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd, the Vale of Clwydd Colliery Ltd, Hydraulic Power, Electric & Hydraulic Lifts Ltd and of several small companies mining coal and lime. A vice-president of the Royal Agricultural Society from 1917, Angus was a member of its wine and finance committees. He was also president of Blacktown Shire Council and of the local agricultural society, and a member of the New South Wales and Tattersalls clubs. John Angus died in St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, on 11 January 1937 and was buried in the Presbyterian section of St Mary's cemetery. He was survived by a son and a daughter by his wife Fanny Oatley, née Cleeve, whom he had married at Penrith on 29 March 1912. His estate was valued for probate at £106,958.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1880-81, 1, 385-86
  • Appendix to Journals (House of Representatives, New Zealand), 1883, 2, 100
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1892-93, 6, 563, 565-68
  • Government Gazette (New Zealand), 5 Feb 1875, 23 Nov 1876
  • Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, 12 (1901)
  • Royal Agricultural Society (New South Wales), R.A.S. Annual, 1906, 1917, 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20, 21 Oct 1909, 12, 13 Nov 1913, 15 Apr 1916, 12 Jan 1937
  • Nepean Times, 15 Apr 1916, 15 Jan 1937
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Angus, James (1836–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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