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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Elliott, James Frederick (1858–1928)

by Gregory Haines

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

James Frederick Elliott (1858-1928), industrial chemist and businessman, was born on 8 November 1858 at Balmain, Sydney, third son of London-born George Robinson Elliott, surgeon, and his Calcutta-born wife Anne, née Mackay. George had migrated to Sydney in the late 1840s with two brothers Frederick and James and in 1859 they bought Edward Youngman's importing, wholesale druggist and dry-salting business. They expanded into the manufacture of drugs and chemicals, packaging and the sale of surgical instruments, and in 1873 formed a private company, Elliott Brothers Ltd; it was registered as a public company in 1885.

After attending Sydney Grammar School, James Frederick was sent abroad to study chemistry in London and Germany. At Berlin he studied under Professor Hoffmann, graduated Ph.D. from the Albert Ludwigs University at Freiburg, Germany, and then taught chemistry under Hoffmann. On 23 February 1879 at Pimlico, London, he married Clara Martha Boelke. He was recalled to Australia by his father and in 1884 began working for Elliott Bros as a pharmaceutical chemist and chemical engineer, and later designed their laboratories at Rozelle. He made many visits overseas to investigate developments in pharmaceutical manufacturing and, as he drew closer to the commercial heart of the firm, in search of raw materials. In 1912, after the death of his elder brother George, he became chairman and managing director of the firm.

Elliott was also a director of the Australian Alliance Assurance Co. and the Automatic Bread Baking Co. Ltd, and of Taylors & Elliotts Ltd, Brisbane. During World War I, when Australia's dependence on overseas chemical supplies, especially German, became clear, Elliott extended and improved his company's ability to manufacture bismuth (then much used in medicine), various fertilisers and mineral acids.

A noted yachtsman, Elliott raced Magic, bought from (Sir) James R. Fairfax in 1891, and later Meteor. He was rear-commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron in 1893-94 and 1900-02 and vice-commodore in 1902-04, and was a director of the private company formed to buy the club's premises, Carabella, Milsons Point, in 1904. He was reputedly 'a man of liberal ideas, keen judgment, happy disposition'. From childhood he suffered from recurring throat and chest complaints which often prompted him to travel north in the winter. In 1905 Elliott had legally separated from his wife and endowed her with £400 a year for life. Predeceased by his two sons, he died at his home, Lahane, Wunulla Road, Point Piper, on 9 September 1928 and was buried in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery.

At the time of Elliott's death Evelyn Elizabeth Evans was living at Lahane: in his will Elliott provided handsomely for her, and also for Margaret Jackson and Alice Taylor. His estate was valued for probate at £126,335; of the final residue, two-sixths went to John Jackson, Katoomba, and one-sixth was left to each of the four children of Elliott's two nephews. In 1929 Elliott Bros became part of Drug Houses of Australia Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • P. R. Stephensen (ed), Sydney Sails (Syd, 1962)
  • G. Haines, The Grains and Threepenn'orths of Pharmacy (Melb, 1976)
  • Elliott Bros Ltd, Australian Pharmaceutical Notes and News, 1 July 1920, 10 Feb 1926, 10 Sept 1928, 10 Oct 1930, 10 June, 10 Dec 1931
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Sept 1928.

Additional Resources

  • probate, Brisbane Courier, 23 October 1928, p 14

Citation details

Gregory Haines, 'Elliott, James Frederick (1858–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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