Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James (Jim) Hardie (1851–1920)

by John Lack

This article was published:

James (Jim) Hardie (1851–1920), businessman, was born on 27 July 1851, at Linlithgow, Scotland, second of five children and eldest of three sons of Alexander Hardie, master tanner, and his wife Margaret, née Duncan. Jim learned the trade with his father, was office manager and bookkeeper, and became a partner in Alexander Hardie & Sons several years before he left for Melbourne, perhaps attracted by the milder climate and better business prospects.

Armed with testimonials to his personal and business character, Hardie arrived early in 1887 and established an office for importing and supplying machinery and chemicals to Melbourne's tanneries. He applied himself assiduously to 'working up what with care may develop into a very good business', as he described his prospects in 1891 to Andrew Reid (1867-1939), a Linlithgow acquaintance who was about to migrate to Australia.

Hardie soon enjoyed the confidence of Melbourne's leading tanners. He was honorary secretary (1890-1901) of the revived Master Tanners' and Curriers' (Master Tanners' and Leather Manufacturers') Association of Victoria, which held its meetings in his Flinders Lane office. From 1890 to 1894 he campaigned among butchers and woolbrokers to improve the flaying and branding of hides, and he initiated the 1900 intercolonial conference of Australian tanners that framed tariff recommendations for the industry. Hardie's disagreement with some of the recommendations caused his resignation as association secretary, but he joined its executive and was later honorary treasurer.

His business survived the 1890s depression and prospered, partly because in 1892 he recruited Reid as his salesman. Junior partner from 1896 and owner of a half share from 1899, Reid set up the Sydney office in 1900. In February 1902 Hardie opened enlarged Melbourne premises with a traditional Scottish 'shop-warming'. His company was described that year as importers, shippers, and leather and bark factors.

Hardie had married with Wesleyan forms Clara Evelyn, daughter of John Buncle, on 11 January 1893 at her father's home at West Brunswick. They had four children. In 1903, convalescing from illness, he took his wife on a seven-month trip through Britain, Europe and North America, where he inspected tanneries with Melbourne businessmen Squire Kennon and Herbert Burgess. Having secured new agencies for advanced American machinery, chemicals and dyestuffs, he returned with his health restored, and with a trial shipment of a new type of roofing and lining slate, made by the French Fibro-Ciment Co.

Despite its fragility, fibro-cement sheeting (made from cement and asbestos) proved popular because of its resistance to heat extremes, ants and termites. Hardie & Co. was soon the sole Australasian and Pacific agent for the product. Among the firm's earliest Melbourne customers was the Victorian Railways, which built linesmen's huts and roofed the new Spencer Street Railway Station—a 'temporary solution' that lasted until the 1960s—with fibro-cement.

Bald, with a neat, ginger beard, Hardie had a rather severe appearance. The family's homes, successively at Ascot Vale, Hawthorn, Brighton and East Malvern, were named Lithgae or Lithca, diminutives of Linlithgow, his birthplace, which he again visited in 1910 during a second world trip with Clara. In 1912 he sold his interest in James Hardie & Co. to Reid for £17,000. In retirement he continued as honorary treasurer of the master tanners' association, which honoured him with a life membership in 1913. At Brighton Beach Hardie was a prominent supporter of St Leonard's Presbyterian Church and the progress association and his wife was active in the Red Cross Society. Hardie died of arteriosclerotic heart disease on 20 November 1920, while visiting Pine Farm, which he had established for his son at Poowong North, Gippsland. He was buried in Brighton cemetery and left an estate valued for probate at £18,809. His wife, two daughters and one son survived him. The daughters erected a memorial window to James and Clara (d.1948) in the Ewing Memorial Church, East Malvern.

None of James Hardie's children had issue, but his name survived. Reid, who had initiated the Australian manufacture of 'Fibrolite' in 1917, retained the founder's name when he floated a public company in 1920. After his death, his sons Andrew Thyne Reid and (Sir) John ran the business.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith, Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903) p 503
  • B. Carroll, ‘A Very Good Business’: One Hundred Years of James Hardie Industries Limited 1888-1988 (Syd, 1987)
  • Australian Leather Journal, Oct 1899, p 652, June 1900, p 67, Aug 1900, p 160, Oct 1901, p 337, Mar 1902, p 729, Oct 1903, p 387, 15 Dec 1903, p 536, 15 Sept 1906, p 337, 15 Feb 1907, p 694, 16 Sept 1907, p 331, 15 Jan 1910, p 507, 15 Mar 1910, p 621, 15 Dec 1910, pp 432 & 434, 15 Mar 1911, p 616, 15 June 1911, p 74, 15 Feb 1913, p 648, 15 Dec 1920, p 730
  • Scientific Australian, 20 Sept 1904, pp 5 & 6
  • Brighton Southern Cross, 23 March 1918, p 2
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 Nov 1920, p 6
  • note [MSB 401] from James Hardie to his wife, on the occasion of their visiting his old family home in Linlithgow, 18 Sept 1910, in Annie Vanstone papers, MS 11284 (State Library of Victoria)
  • James Hardie Industries records (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

John Lack, 'Hardie, James (Jim) (1851–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 July, 1851
Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland


20 November, 1920 (aged 69)
Poowong, Victoria, Australia

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