Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Blackwood (1820–1881)

by R. M. Hartwell

This article was published:

James Blackwood (1820-1881), company manager, was born on 23 September 1820 at Dowhill, near Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of Hew Blackwood, landowner, and his wife Janet, née Richard. He came from an old Scottish family, one of his ancestors having been privy councillor to Mary Queen of Scots, and his immediate forbears had landed estates in Ayrshire. The first of three brothers to migrate from Ayr to Australia, James arrived at Sydney in December 1839.

Blackwood's mercantile career began in the Union Bank, first in Sydney and later in Hobart, Adelaide and Melbourne. In 1851 he became inspector and manager of its Melbourne branch and in 1857, when the bank's colonial administration was reorganized, one of the two Australian chief inspectors, in charge of the southern district including Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Throughout these years he maintained close ties with the Reids and Russells and their mutual friends in Scotland, all of whom highly valued his professional advice.

In 1859 Blackwood left the bank to become the partner-manager in Melbourne of the pioneering pastoral house of F. G. Dalgety whom he had known since the early 1840s. Dalgety claimed that Blackwood brought with him a large increase of business, especially from his Scottish friends; at the same time he remained a director of the Union Bank, which had become Dalgety's colonial banker. Blackwood continued in active management until 1879 and became Dalgety's most trusted colleague. He supervised Dalgety's largest colonial firm in its critical period of growth and was responsible, with Dalgety, for transforming a merchant house into a firm, still unincorporated, which provided complex marketing and financial services to the pastoral industry.

Blackwood took little part in public affairs but typified a growing managerial class in Australia, a class which developed those basic marketing and financial skills on an international basis, without which colonial growth would certainly have been slower. He was typical also of a remarkable Scottish-Australian community which provided so much energy and business acumen for the colonial economy, indicating a Presbyterian ethos behind Australia's developing capitalism. As a mercantile representative Blackwood gave evidence to select committees on government banking in 1853-54, on the Union Bank and on Supreme Court sittings in 1858 and on reduced tariff duties in 1866. Blackwood was a keen sportsman, first chairman of the Victoria Racing Club and an early member of the Melbourne Club. On 29 March 1849, again typical of the interlocking of wealthy pioneer families, he had married Eliza Hunter, daughter of Robert Officer; they had three sons and five daughters.

Blackwood was a manager rather than a capitalist, an administrator rather than an investor; his personal wealth grew slowly and was also modest compared with that of his partner Dalgety. In 1861 he held only £10,000 of the total Dalgety firms' capital of £348,000 and £100,000 of £934,000 in 1879, although in the same years he drew 6/40 and 9/65 of the total profits. Predeceased by his wife, he died at his home, Mont Alto, Toorak, on 4 February 1881; his funeral service was conducted by Rev. Charles Strong. His estate was valued at £72,000; two daughters received £10,000 each and the residue went to his son, Arthur Ranken, who became Melbourne manager of Dalgety, Blackwood & Co.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Kenyon, The Story of Australia: Its Dscoverers and Founders (Geelong, no date)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 4-6 (Lond, 1959-68)
  • S. J. Butlin, Australia and New Zealand Bank (Melb, 1961)
  • D. S. Macmillan, Scotland and Australia, 1788-1850 (Oxford, 1967)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1881
  • Australasian, 12 Feb 1881
  • Dalgety & Co. papers.

Citation details

R. M. Hartwell, 'Blackwood, James (1820–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 September, 1820
Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, Scotland


4 February, 1881 (aged 60)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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