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James George Drake (1850–1941)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

James George Drake (1850-1941), journalist, lawyer and politician, was born on 26 April 1850 in London, son of Edward Drake, licensed victualler, and his wife Ann Fanny, née Hyde. Educated mainly at King's College School, he worked for several years for merchants Samuel Hanson, Son, Evison & Barter. On 14 January 1874 he arrived at Brisbane in the Abbey Holme; seeking work he went to Stanthorpe but eventually found a place in a Toowoomba store. Returning to Brisbane, he worked as clerk for ten months until June 1875 with Brabant & Co., merchants, then as a journalist with the Bundaberg Star.

In two years Drake worked for the Daily Northern Argus (Rockhampton), the Telegraph (Brisbane), the Brisbane Courier and, briefly, the Melbourne Argus. He also spent a short period at Barcoo as a jackaroo. A competent shorthand writer, later president of the Queensland Shorthand Writers' Association, Drake joined the parliamentary reporting staff in 1876 and stayed there for six years. From May 1881 he read for the Bar entrance examination with Granville Miller, later a judge, and was admitted on 6 June 1882. In partnership with Magnus Jensen, he established a flourishing practice and, objecting to the division of the profession, insisted on being known as a legal practitioner.

Long a radical, Drake's objection to Asian immigration into Queensland led him into association with William Lane; he became a shareholder, writer and joint editor of Lane's Boomerang in 1887 and was prominent in its reconstruction under Gresley Lukin in 1890. He stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly seat of Enoggera against (Sir) James Dickson in 1887; at the general election of March 1888 which followed the resignation of Sir Samuel Griffith's government he won the seat. He was a personal follower of Griffith until the latter's elevation to the bench, then followed an independent line. Despite his radical ideas, he refused to join the Labor Party and in 1896 became leader of a small group called the Independent Opposition. He was vice-president of the Progressive League in February 1899, but at the end of the year accepted appointment as government leader in the Legislative Council and as postmaster-general and secretary for public instruction in the ministry of (Sir) Robert Philp. He was assiduous in enforcing the compulsory clauses of the Education Act.

A Federation enthusiast from the 1880s, Drake was one of the principal publicists of the movement in Queensland. He wrote frequently in newspapers, published the pamphlet Federation, Imperial or Democratic in 1896 and in February 1899–January 1901 ran his own fortnightly paper Progress for the cause. Winning election to the first Senate as a Protectionist, he was chosen when Dickson died to be postmaster-general in Barton's first ministry (1901-03). He was probably also party whip. Melbourne Punch described him as stolid, 'a plodder—thorough rather than brilliant', a 'slow, deliberate, grave speaker' yet with 'a sense of humour, a gift of portraiture, a good memory and a thorough knowledge of English literature'.

A lieutenant in the 1st (Moreton) Regiment of the Queensland Defence Force in 1886, Drake was a major by 1901. He had been vice-president of the Queensland United Service Institution. His brief period as minister for defence in August-September 1903 was terminated, however, by the reconstruction of the ministry after Barton's resignation. He became attorney-general in the succeeding Deakin ministry but his term was again cut short when the government resigned in April 1904. Vice-president of the Executive Council in the Reid-McLean ministry of 1904-05, he was not included in the next Deakin government. In January-June 1906 Drake ran a newspaper, Commonwealth, in Brisbane to counteract State hostility to the Commonwealth, but did not nominate for re-election in December and returned to the law in Brisbane. In the Queensland general election of 1907 he stood against Edward Forrest at North Brisbane as an Independent Liberal but received only 137 votes.

Drake was crown prosecutor in 1910-20 with right of private practice and served occasionally as a deputy judge in district courts. After 1920 he appeared in public life only as a councillor of the Brisbane branch of the Royal Society of St George and as chairman of the local committee for Trinity College of Music, London. He died at Brisbane Hospital on 1 August 1941 and was buried in Toowong cemetery. On 25 June 1897 in a private house in Quay Street, Brisbane, he had married Mary Street with Baptist forms. Four children survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • R. Johnston, History of the Queensland Bar (Brisb, 1979)
  • Brisbane Courier, 23 Mar 1888, 18 June 1894, 24 Aug 1898
  • Boomerang (Brisbane), 12 May 1888
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 7 Feb 1901, 10 Apr 1902
  • Punch (Melbourne), 30 Mar 1905
  • Commonwealth (Brisbane), 30 June 1906
  • Edmund Barton papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Drake papers (University of Queendland Library and National Library of Australia)
  • Drake reminiscences (typescript, no date, State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Drake, James George (1850–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 April, 1850
London, Middlesex, England


1 August, 1941 (aged 91)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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