Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Gray (1820–1889)

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James Gray (1820-1889), civil servant and parliamentarian, was born at Ballybay, County Monaghan, Ireland, son of Orange parents. He dabbled in Irish politics and in 1843 was transported to Hobart Town for subornation.

On 17 January 1848 Gray became a clerk in the registry of deeds at a salary of £78. From December 1851 he was ill for eight months and when he recovered became bench clerk to visiting justices at the Hobart penitentiary at a salary of £100. In July 1854, with a reference from Lieutenant Governor Sir William Denison as 'a very useful man and one in whom you can confide', he was appointed a clerk in the department of roads and public works. After six months he was promoted a second-class clerk at £150 a year. Flattering testimonials from past and present directors of his department and from several members of parliament won him promotion in January 1860 to chief clerk and doubled his salary. When reorganization of the department was mooted in 1868 Gray collected more testimonials praising his fidelity, attention and untiring exertion 'as one of the most efficient officers in the service'. In July 1870 he offered to accept a lower salary 'if the exigencies of the public service required'. He was then earning, in addition to his salary, emoluments of £60 for extra work under the Loans Act and £50 from the Bridgewater commissioners. In November 1871 he was notified of the abolition of his office and applied for his pension, claiming that it should be computed not only on £300 but on the £410 he had received for 'a much greater number of years than required by the Superannuation Act'. His claim was approved by the Executive Council but parliament demurred; on 1 January 1872 Gray was given a pension of £144 for his salary but only a lump sum of £50 for the loss of his extra earnings.

An ardent Irishman, Gray named his home Ulster Lodge and devoted much time and eloquence to the cause of 'the little property-holder'. Elected to the House of Assembly for West Hobart in August he soon won repute for the variety and force of the petitions he introduced and of his questions in the House. Although described as 'a fellow of infinite jest and of a most excellent fancy', his light banter often demolished departmental extravagances and strengthened his appeals for the underprivileged. After the death of his wife Mary, née Newton, whom he had married in April 1848, he resigned in April 1877 and took his only daughter to Ireland. He returned to Hobart in 1880 but she stayed with relations and reputedly became a nun. In 1881 he contested the Pembroke seat in the Legislative Council without success but in 1882-89 in the assembly represented Sorell, a rural electorate which owed him much for its roads and bridges. In November 1883 he represented Tasmania at the Irish National Convention in Melbourne and renewed acquaintance with the president, Kevin O'Doherty, whom he had known 'in the days of his exile'.

Habitually anti-government, Gray was often twitted for his political convictions but none doubted his geniality and benevolence to even casual acquaintances. Late in 1888 ill health kept him away from parliament but, hearing of designs to dislodge the ministry of (Sir) Philip Fysh, he struggled to his place and successfully defended the Conservative premier. The effort hastened Gray's death at 69 in Hobart on 21 January 1889. He was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Advocate (Melbourne), 10 Nov 1883, 26 Jan 1889
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17, 22, 23 Jan 1889
  • CSD 7/49/D1009 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

'Gray, James (1820–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 April 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

James Gray (1820-1889), by J. W. Beattie

James Gray (1820-1889), by J. W. Beattie

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125880542

Life Summary [details]


Ballybay, Monaghan, Ireland


21 January, 1889 (aged ~ 69)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: subornation
Sentence: 7 years