Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Dickson (1813–1863)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

James Dickson (1813-1863), merchant and politician, was the son of Peter Dickson, farmer, of Seawick Park, Kirkcudbright, Scotland, and his wife Elizabeth, née Houston. Described as a tailor, he arrived in Australia as a bounty immigrant in the Duchess of Northumberland on 22 April 1838. He went to Maitland where he and his brother David established a general store that grew into a large and successful business. In the 1850s he leased over a quarter of a million acres (101,172 ha) in the New England, Warrego and Leichhardt districts, including Yarrow and Mihi Creeks, Oban, Pepperton and Cartland; he also held Glen Innis (25,000 acres [10,117 ha]) and Mole River (60,000 acres [24,281 ha]) with William Dumaresq.

In 1857 Dickson won Northumberland Boroughs in the Legislative Assembly. He favoured free trade, electoral reform, municipal institutions and local taxation, the extension of railways, a national system of education and district courts with extended civil and criminal jurisdiction. He also supported 'extended religious liberty' but opposed further state aid because it was 'erroneous in principle and unjust in practice'. Before his success at the 1858 general election, he said that he was a supporter of the Cowper ministry and was against the undue influence exercised by the squatters in the first parliament. He also opposed an impost on Chinese, saying he would 'never consent to a tax on the human race'. He represented the seat until 11 April 1859. From 15 September until his death he represented East Maitland.

In 1852 Dickson was one of the founders of the Hunter River New Steam Navigation Co. After his election to parliament he moved to Sydney where he carried on business with Alexander Dickson and Robert Strachan as Dickson and Co., merchants, 15 Macquarie Place. In April 1858 he was elected with John Watt to a committee to examine the possibility of establishing a Presbyterian college within the University of Sydney. He was an active member of the Presbyterian Church, both at Maitland and Newtown.

He died at his residence, Holmwood, Newtown, on 28 April 1863, and was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery at East Maitland: about 1905 his remains were transferred to Waverley cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £100,000.

At Maitland on 18 March 1842, he had married Agnes Graham, daughter of Robert Strachan of Gelston Lodge, Kirkcudbright, and sister of Mrs David Dickson; they had four sons and four daughters. The eldest daughter Jessie (b.1843) married Lieutenant (later Major-General) John Soame Richardson. Dickson's wife, who was born in Dumfries, Scotland, died at Sydney on 25 October 1913, aged 91.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cameron, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Syd, 1905)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1859-60, vol 3, 652-3, 691, 708
  • Hunter River Gazette, 19 Mar 1842
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Sept, 31 Oct, 5, 11 Nov 1857, 27 Jan, 6 Apr 1858, 29 Apr 1863
  • Maitland Mercury, 2 May 1863.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Dickson, James (1813–1863)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




28 April, 1863 (aged ~ 50)
Newtown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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