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James Hay (Jim) Ashton (1899–1973)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

James Hay (Jim) Ashton (1899-1973), grazier, businessman and polo player, was born on 23 September 1899 at Woollahra, Sydney, eldest of four sons of James Ashton, journalist, and his wife Helen, née Willis. From Sydney Preparatory School young Jim attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) where he was boxing champion and an athletics and Rugby Union representative. He briefly worked in a Sydney accountant's office, visited South America with his father, then went to England in 1918 to join the Royal Flying Corps, but the Armistice intervened. Returning home, he jackerooed on Coreena station, near Barcaldine, Queensland. In 1920 James senior bought Markdale, a property at Binda, New South Wales, which was to be owned and worked by his sons, and managed by James.

There James and his brother Robert came under the influence of Colonel Henry Macartney who had helped to form the Goulburn Artillery Polo Club as a sporting inducement for young men to join the local mounted field artillery unit. The two Ashtons began playing regularly in 1922. According to Macartney, James was the 'moving spirit' and 'disciplinarian' who persuaded his younger brothers to join the club; from 1926 the Ashtons competed as a team with James captain, Philip No.1, Geoffrey No.2 and Robert 'back'. Representing Goulburn in the artillery colours of red and blue, the brothers won the first of their five Countess of Dudley cups in Sydney in 1928: their last was in 1939.

Accompanied by their parents, in 1930 the Ashtons took twenty-five ponies to England. Winning 16 out of 21 matches, including the Whitney Cup, they reached the final of the Champion Cup at Hurlingham, but lost 9-7. The polo-playing King Alphonso XIII of Spain presented a trophy to James senior in recognition of his 'sporting enterprise' and his sons' 'brilliant display' in the final. Now rated a 26-goal team, they were acclaimed as one of the best combinations to visit the United States of America where they impressed with their skill and sportsmanship, won several matches on Long Island and sold their ponies for US$77,600.

From 1932 James acted as attorney and adviser to the New Zealand & Australian Land Co. Ltd (Edinburgh) and in 1932-34 served on the executive of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales. During the Depression he and his brothers bred and trained polo ponies for export, mainly to India. In 1934 Millamolong at Mandurama, was acquired; there, through careful management, James developed a commercial Hereford herd and a high-class merino flock bred first on Burrabogie and then on The Lagoons (Binalong) blood. On 28 February 1935 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, he married Irene Marie Anderson.

The Ashton brothers again played in England in 1937 where their horsemanship and teamwork proved even more successful. In what they considered to be their best performance, they beat the British Army (6-5) at Aldershot, and, with Robert Skene replacing Philip, won the coveted Champion Cup at Hurlingham. They met expenses by selling their ponies for over £10,000 at Tattersall's in London. At the height of his career James was rated a 7-goal player whose captaincy enabled the brothers to defeat higher-rated teams; as a side, the Ashtons were unbeaten 'off the stick' in Australia in eleven years.

A trustee of the Sir Samuel McCaughey settlements (from 1936) and bequests (from 1939), Ashton became a director of Pitt, Son & Badgery Ltd and of the Coreena Pastoral Co. Ltd. During World War II he served on the board of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia; he was also a director of the Mutual Life & Citizens' Assurance Co. Ltd from 1940 (chairman 1963-69), the New South Wales Land & Agency Co. Ltd from 1941 and the Peninsular & Oriental Co. of Australia Pty Ltd (chairman 1960-69).

Ashton was six feet (183 cm) tall, spare in build, energetic, disciplined and methodical. He maintained high standards of private and public duty. Somewhat reserved in manner, with an acerbic wit, he took a keen interest in world affairs, finance and sport in general. On retiring from polo, he set up a thoroughbred stud and raced some of his horses, including Belubula, under his own colours. As an ardent free trader, very much involved in rural politics behind the scenes, he opposed the protectionist policies of (Sir) John McEwen and the wool reserve price scheme; his closest friend was James Dunlop McLeod. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, Ashton died on 24 June 1973 at St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated. A portrait of him by Paul Fitzgerald is held by Ashton's elder son James William of Millamolong.

Select Bibliography

  • Field (London), 2 July 1938
  • People (Sydney), 6 June 1951
  • Pastoral Review, July 1973
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 26 July 1973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 1929, 14, 30 June, 7 July, 11 Aug 1930, 25-27 June 1973
  • Times (London), 23, 24, 27, 30 June 1930, 22 May, 17, 18, 21, 24, 28 June 1937
  • New York Times, 29 July, 6, 10, 14, 20 Aug 1930
  • Land (Sydney), 14 June 1990
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Ashton, James Hay (Jim) (1899–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 September, 1899
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


24 June, 1973 (aged 73)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.