Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Gormly (1836–1922)

by Gordon Buxton

This article was published:

James Gormly (1836-1922), bushman and politician, was born at Foxborough Hall, Elphin, County Roscommon, Ireland, son of Patrick Gormly, grazier, and his wife Mary, née Docray. In January 1840 his parents and five children arrived at Sydney as bounty immigrants in the Crusader. They settled in the Illawarra district where James was lost in the mountains for forty-eight hours. In 1844 the family moved to Nangus on the Murrumbidgee and in 1849 settled at Gundagai. James had little education but helped to tend his father's stock and became expert in bushcraft. At 15 he briefly visited the Turon diggings. In the 1852 flood at Gundagai all the Gormlys were drowned except James and his brother Thomas. Next year they took stock to the Victorian markets and then had some success on the Victorian goldfields. On 28 December 1858 James married Margaret Jane Cox at Ten Mile Creek, Holbrook.

About 1854 Gormly had settled at Wagga Wagga where he won government mail contracts and soon had 300 horses and a large staff on 500 miles (805 km) of mail routes in western New South Wales; one of his coachmen was the Tichborne claimant, Tom Castro. In 1872 he sold out to Cobb & Co. and next year selected land for himself and six children near The Rock. In 1876 he moved to new selections and bought some freehold land. In 1875 he had leased Coronga Peak, 182,000 acres (73,654 ha) in the Bourke district; after adding fences and tanks he sold it at a profit and took up Wilga Downs, 256,000 acres (103,601 ha) on the West Bogan, which he also sold well. In 1882 he returned to Wagga Wagga, bought urban real estate and advanced his farming interests.

In 1875 he was foundation president of the Wagga Wagga Free Selectors' Association and in 1877 attended the conference of free selectors in Sydney. In 1883-86 he served on the Wagga Wagga City Council and was twice mayor in 1884-85. He also became president of the Mechanics' School of Arts and the Murrumbidgee Pastoral and Agricultural Association. In the Legislative Assembly he represented the Murrumbidgee in 1885-94 and Wagga Wagga in 1894-1904 and was a member of the Legislative Council in 1904-22. A protectionist and Irish Catholic, he advocated the cause of selectors and farmers' unions in parliament and carried his vigorous political campaigns to every small settlement by rail, coach or buggy. His speeches reflected his detailed and practical knowledge of matters affecting smallholders. An effective 'roads and bridges' member he carried three private Acts.

Gormly was an expert amateur rider and at 9 was reputed to have ridden in his first race at Gundagai. With Camel he won 22 races and came fourth in Wagga's marathon 'Ten Mile Race'. For over fifty years he was a member of the Murrumbidgee Turf Club, often acting as steward and handicapper, and in 1885 gave the club a gold cup; he was also president of the St Patrick's Day Race Club. He continued to ride in races long after he was in parliament. In 1913 he was foundation president of the Wagga Wagga and District Horse-breeders Association and often judged thoroughbreds at Riverina shows. In the early 1900s Gormly wrote many articles about his experiences for the local papers and in 1921 published his Exploration and Settlement in Australia. Small, wiry and energetic, he had great powers of endurance. He carefully nurtured his Irish brogue all his life. Gormly died aged 86 in Wagga Wagga on 19 May 1922 and was buried in the Catholic cemetery. Predeceased by his wife in 1917, he was survived by five sons and three daughters. His estate was valued at £14,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • R. J. E. Gormly, Hon. James Gormly … a Murrumbidgee Pioneer (Pymble, 1959)
  • G. L. Buxton, The Riverina 1861-1891 (Melb, 1967)
  • K. Swan, A History of Wagga Wagga (Wagga Wagga, 1970)
  • J. Gormly reminiscences (newsclippings, State Library of New South Wales)
  • printed catalogue under James Gormly (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Gordon Buxton, 'Gormly, James (1836–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 13 June 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]


Elphin, Roscommon, Ireland


19 May, 1922 (aged ~ 86)
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia

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