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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fallon, James Thomas (1823–1886)

by W. P. Driscoll

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

James Thomas Fallon (1823?-1886), vigneron and wine merchant, was born at Athlone, Ireland, son of James Fallon, farmer, and his wife Margaret, née Norton (Naughton). He was educated at the Athlone Grammar School. On 31 August 1841 he arrived in Sydney as a bounty immigrant in the John Renwick. He farmed for some years near Sydney, then opened a store in Braidwood. In 1854 Fallon moved to Albury, opened a general store in Kiewa Street and later became part-owner of the paddle-steamer Cumberoona. He was soon one of the town's most important citizens and in 1857 subscribed £100 to a reward for the local discovery of gold. In 1859-62 Fallon was Albury's first mayor.

The Murray Valley Vineyard, 640 acres (259 ha) with 150 (61 ha) under vine, was established about 1858 by a company of which Fallon was a director, but border customs caused a loss of some £7000. About 1861 Fallon acquired the vineyard and soon became a successful vigneron and wine merchant as well as storekeeper. His well-known cellars in Kiewa Street were the scene of many local celebrations. By 1872 he had set up a distillery, a central depot in Sydney and cellars in Melbourne and exported wine to England, America, India, Ceylon and New Zealand. His wines continued to win prizes, notably in 1873 at Vienna and in 1882 at Bordeaux.

Active in community affairs, Fallon became president of the Albury and Murray River Agricultural and Horticultural Society. In 1869-72 he represented the Hume in the Legislative Assembly. In 1872-73 Fallon visited overseas vineyards and in December 1873 addressed the London Society of Arts on Australian vines and wines (printed as The Murray Valley Vineyard … in 1874). He argued that the British duties discriminated against some colonial wines. He was contradicted by Dr Thudichum, who asserted that Fallon's claims for the strength of colonial wines were opposed to all established scientific facts. On the same visit Fallon engaged L. Frere, a distinguished French vigneron, to manage his vineyard. On his return Fallon had his wines tested for alcoholic strength by the chief inspector of distilleries in Victoria and other impartial officials. The results bore out Fallon's claims as the highest figure obtained was 32.4 per cent without fortification. On 20 June 1876 in London Fallon presented these results, later published as The Wines of Australia, before the Royal Colonial Institute to which he was elected a member. Despite criticism by Dr Thudichum and Hubert de Castella, Fallon and the Victorian government eventually secured a sliding scale of duties on colonial wines.

In 1871-86 Fallon lived in Sydney between overseas travel. He died unmarried at Manly on 26 May 1886 and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Albury cemetery. He left his estate of £20,000 to his brother Patrick who carried on the vineyard; destroyed by phylloxera, it was replanted and wine was made there by the Fallon family until the 1930s. Though his importance as an energetic man in a small town is easy to overestimate, Fallon appears an intelligent and enterprising pioneer, whose initiative and persistence did much for his community and for the colonial wine industry.

Select Bibliography

  • H. de Cattella, John Bull's Vineyard. Australian Sketches (Melb, 1886)
  • A. Andrews, The History of Albury, 1824-1895 (Albury, 1912)
  • W. A. Bayley, Border City (Albury, 1954)
  • K. M. Ortiz, ‘James T. Fallon—One of Albury's Founders’, Albury and District Historical Society, Bulletin, Dec 1968
  • Maitland Mercury, 14 Jan 1868, 1 July, 20 Nov 1875, 16 Mar 1876
  • Town and Country Journal, 20 Apr 1872, 15 July 1876, 5 June 1886
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 23 Feb 1878.

Citation details

W. P. Driscoll, 'Fallon, James Thomas (1823–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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