Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Edmond (1859–1933)

by Sylvia Lawson

This article was published:

James Edmond (1859-1933), journalist, was born on 21 April 1859 at Glasgow, Scotland, son of James Edmond, carpet-maker and cloth-cutter, and his wife Janet, née Dickson. His formal schooling lasted only until he was 12, but he supplemented it with assiduous reading in the Glasgow Public Library. After some years as an insurance clerk, he migrated in 1878 to New Zealand, where he worked in a sweets factory before moving to Victoria about 1884 and then to Queensland. By claiming experience he did not have, he became a proof-reader and possibly also a reporter on the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin; he began sending paragraphs of comment on financial matters to the Sydney Bulletin. Its editor J. F. Archibald was impressed by Edmond's ability to write about politics and finance not only lucidly and cogently, but also with a dry and pungent humour. He invited him in 1886 to join the small full-time staff, and commented later to others, 'Jimmy's the only man I know who can get fun out of a balance-sheet'.

Fun was an integral part of the Bulletin's most serious business. Edmond's humour—discursive, sometimes ponderous, always erudite, inclining to grotesquerie—balanced Archibald's finer mischief in the orchestration of the journal, while his editorials gave it range and strength. From 1890 Edmond was associate editor, from 1892 financial editor and chief deviser of the celebrated 'Wild Cat' columns. He also contributed dramatic criticism, paragraph material throughout the paper—some of it carrying his pseudonym 'Titus Salt'—and occasional short stories. He was editor from 1903 until 1914, when he retired on the grounds of ill-health and exhaustion.

Much was claimed, both during Edmond's lifetime and after it, for his editorial influence upon the makers of the Australian Constitution and on the political leaders of the early Commonwealth. He argued untiringly against overseas borrowing, in favour of fiscal self-sufficiency and therefore also for protection; patiently, through the long campaign for Federation, he sorted out the problems of tariffs and national taxation vis-a-vis the competing interests of the unequally populated colonies. His 'A policy for the Commonwealth', first published as a series of Bulletin leaders between August and December 1900, and later re-issued as a pamphlet, brought together his principal arguments for a federated, protectionist White Australia. He also advocated Federal administration of the Northern Territory, particularly to prevent South Australia from permitting its control by overseas-based companies using black or coloured labour.

Elsewhere, he argued for Federal control of education, and also of all railways and rivers. The makers of the Constitution clearly did not always agree with him, and were not persuaded by the Bulletin on every relevant point; and the relations between them may not have been so much a matter of (unprovable) influence as of mutual reinforcement, shared participation in a common framework of pragmatic, liberal reformism. Edmond certainly drew the Bulletin from its early maverick role into the dominant areas of debate. In the course of developing its practical nationalism, he let its republican idealism drop into obscurity; he also prepared the ground for Australia's fortress-minded isolationists.

Little is known of Edmond's private life. His marriage to Nellie Wilson, at Woollahra, in Sydney on 1 September 1886, was evidently happy; they had four children, and he was regarded as a stable family man, by contrast with Archibald and other club-centred Bohemians. He opposed Archibald's misogynistic anti-feminism, at times strongly and publicly; their difference in that regard accounted for one of the most productive areas of contradiction within the complex, continuing text of the Bulletin.

His later travels in Africa, India and the Middle East confirmed his strong views on Australia's needs for self-containment and racial exclusiveness. He continued to express them, in the Bulletin and elsewhere, until shortly before his death.

Edmond was described by John Dalley: 'Viewing his gigantic head and towering forehead one was reminded of a portrait of Socrates! He had small short-sighted eyes, a broad nose, a chin that was Scottish stubbornness personified and a wide kindly mouth'. He spoke with a marked Glasgow accent. For most of his working years he struggled courageously with heart disease. Edmond died on 21 March 1933, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His estate was valued for probate at £16,920.

Select Bibliography

  • E. V. Palmer, The Legend of the Nineties (Melb, 1954)
  • Lone Hand, 22 (1918), p 63
  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 1 Apr 1933
  • Punch (Melbourne), 8 Jan 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Mar 1933
  • Bulletin, 24 May 1961.

Citation details

Sylvia Lawson, 'Edmond, James (1859–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 3 March 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]

Alternative Names
  • Salt, Titus

21 April, 1859
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


21 March, 1933 (aged 73)

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