Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Barton Holme (1872–1929)

by Jack Watson

This article was published:

John Barton Holme (1872-1929), public servant and barrister, was born on 24 August 1872 at Footscray, Melbourne, fourth son and fifth child of Rev. Thomas Holme, an Anglican clergyman from Manchester, England, and his Queensland-born first wife Martha Louisa Maria, née Zillman; an older brother was Ernest Rudolph. His father became rector of All Souls, Leichhardt, Sydney, in 1882; John was educated at The King's School, Parramatta, and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1893; LL.B., 1895). After admission as a solicitor on 30 May 1896, he practised at West Wyalong until 1898, and in 1901-02 and 1907-09 at Aberdeen, where he had a model dairy farm. In between he worked in Sydney—he was chief clerk of the Industrial Arbitration Office in 1903-04 and in private practice with G. S. Beeby in 1905-07.

Interested in industrial arbitration and working conditions, Holme joined the Department of Labour and Industry as investigation and statistical officer in May 1911 and helped the minister, Beeby, to draft the Industrial Arbitration Act of 1912. He was successively appointed industrial registrar and permanent head of the department, which had been reorganized; in July 1912, he started the New South Wales Industrial Gazette. Following an alteration in the status of the permanent head, he was appointed the first under secretary of the department on 10 February 1914. On 18 February next year he was admitted to the Bar. In 1912-26 Holme was also special commissioner and in the event of an imminent lock-out or strike he would arrange conferences to endeavour to resolve the problem; his most notable activity related to the great transport crisis in New South Wales in 1917.

Holme's appointment in 1918 as deputy president of the newly constituted New South Wales Board of Trade was singularly appropriate for a man at ease in any company, with a wide range of interests including dairy and sheep-farming, the growing of agricultural crops, the law, English literature, industrial history and modern conditions in overseas countries. His time with the board was perhaps the most productive period of his life and the reports with which he was identified exemplify his creative thinking and his attention to research and the study of evidence: in addition to the cost of living inquiries, his reports included Miners' Phthisis (1918-19), which led to the technical commission of inquiry chaired by Professor H. Chapman in 1919-20, Apprenticeship in Industries (1920), White Lead as Used in the Painting Industry (1921), which stopped local agitation for the prohibition of the use of that mixture, and Conditions of Production and Distribution of Milk (1923). In 1918-19 he had also chaired the royal commission into Sydney Ferries Ltd. After the board's abolition in 1926 Holme was asked to undertake special investigations (such as the transport services between Sydney and Jenolan Caves) and functioned as inter-departmental commissioner.

In 1929 Holme visited the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, United States of America, for treatment for a cerebral tumour but, soon after his return, he died on Christmas Day at Woollahra and was buried in the Church of England section of South Head cemetery. He was survived by his wife Lilian Florence, née Bakewell, whom he had married at St Philip's Church, Church Hill, Sydney, on 10 November 1913, and by one son and two daughters; his son John Leicester became a pathologist. Holme's estate was valued for probate at £8616.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Dec 1929
  • Domestic Meetings of New South Wales Board of Trade, minutes, 28 May–31 Dec 1919, 2/5772 (State Records New South Wales)
  • Inquiry into the Cost of Living and Conditions for the Rural Industries, Female Adult Workers and General Costs of Living as from 1918-25, 2/5773-5801 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jack Watson, 'Holme, John Barton (1872–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 August, 1872
Footscray, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


25 December, 1929 (aged 57)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

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