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Sir James Hay Gosse (1876–1952)

by Fayette Gosse

This article was published:

James Hay Gosse (1876-1952), by unknown photographer, c1940

James Hay Gosse (1876-1952), by unknown photographer, c1940

State Library of South Australia, B 11157

Sir James Hay Gosse (1876-1952), businessman, was born on 21 December 1876 at Kent Town, Adelaide, second son of William Christie Gosse, an English-born surveyor, and his second wife Agnes, daughter of Alexander Hay. William died in 1881, leaving his widow with three small children. Educated (1886-96) at the Collegiate School of St Peter, James excelled at football and rowing. In 1894-1905 he played as a ruckman for Norwood Football Club (president 1920) and represented the State five times. 'A giant in the boat', in 1902-05 he rowed in the South Australian VIII and was president (1924-31) of Adelaide Rowing Club.

On leaving school, Gosse was employed as a clerk at George Wills & Co. Ltd; he was to remain with the firm for fifty years and rise to managing director. He also became a director and chairman of the boards of the Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd and the Bank of Adelaide, and was a board-member of News Ltd, the Executor Trustee & Agency Co. of South Australia Ltd, G. & R. Wills & Co. Ltd and James & Alexander Brown & Abermain Seaham Collieries Ltd. Chairman of the Australian Association of British Manufacturers, he was president of the South Australian Chamber of Commerce, the Boy Scouts' Association and St Peter's Collegians' Association (1937-38), as well as being a governor (1917-38) of his old school.

In 1907 Gosse had joined the Adelaide Club. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Walkerville, on 29 April 1908 he married 21-year-old Joanna Lang, daughter of Tom Elder Barr Smith; they lived at St Margarets, Parkside. Gosse was intensely interested in his forebears, and kept up a friendship with his English cousins, among them the critic (Sir) Edmund Gosse. Travelling throughout Australia, and frequently abroad, James Gosse belonged to the Melbourne, Union (Sydney), Weld (Perth) and Queensland clubs. He was gregarious, hospitable—'On we go!' was his favourite toast—and a great promoter of his State. In 1911-18 he was manager of George Wills & Co. in Perth. Returning to Adelaide, he served as honorary consul (1923-52) for Denmark and was appointed to the Order of the Dannebrog (1936).

A bustling, forthright and active man, irascible and genial by turn, Gosse was much sought after for his zest and entrepreneurial skills. He was never idle or detached from the causes he adopted. President (1923-31 and 1935-47) of the Royal South Australian Zoological and Acclimatization Society, on Sundays he carried a basket of stale bread to distribute as he walked around the cages discussing affairs with the director. From 1933 until his death he was a councillor of the local branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. In 1947 he was knighted. As chairman (1940-52) of the State's Fauna and Flora Board, he fostered its Flinders Chase wildlife sanctuary on Kangaroo Island and holidayed there annually. He was a member (from 1939) of the board of the South Australian Museum and in 1948 gave the State government 3000 acres (1214 ha) in the Coorong to restore the sandhills to the condition depicted by George French Angas. Survived by his wife, daughter and four sons, Sir James died on 14 August 1952 at Stirling and was cremated. His nephew George Gosse won the George Cross and a grandson Alexander Downer entered Federal parliament.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Gosse, The Gosses (Canb, 1981)
  • Adel Rowing Club, The First 100 Seasons (Adel, 1982)
  • St Peter's College Magazine, 7 May 1937, Dec 1952
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, 53, 1951-52
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 Oct 1948, 14 Aug 1952.

Citation details

Fayette Gosse, 'Gosse, Sir James Hay (1876–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Hay Gosse (1876-1952), by unknown photographer, c1940

James Hay Gosse (1876-1952), by unknown photographer, c1940

State Library of South Australia, B 11157

Life Summary [details]


21 December, 1876
Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


14 August, 1952 (aged 75)
Stirling, South Australia, Australia

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