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James Inglis (1845–1908)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

James Inglis (1845-1908), by unknown photographer

James Inglis (1845-1908), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24219595

James Inglis (1845-1908), author, merchant and politician, was born on 24 November 1845 at Edzell, Forfarshire, Scotland, the fourth son of Rev. Robert Inglis, Free Church minister, and his wife Helen, née Brand. Educated in Edinburgh at the Normal School, Watt Institution and the University, he went to New Zealand at 19, worked at Timaru and joined the west coast gold rushes. In 1866 he went to India at the instigation of his brother Alexander, a Calcutta tea merchant, and became an indigo planter in Bihar and the North-West Provinces. He revelled in tiger shooting and pigsticking, and published sporting verses, Tirhoot Rhymes (Calcutta, 1873), under the pseudonym 'Maori', and Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier (London, 1878). In 1875 he became famine commissioner for Bhagalpur. After visiting Scotland Inglis returned to manage extensive government territory.

A rheumatic cripple, in 1877 he left Calcutta commissioned by the Alahabad Pioneer Mail to write on the Australian colonies as 'a field for Anglo-Indian capital'. As 'Maori' he also wrote for the Echo and Sydney Mail. His letters to the Pioneer were published as Our Australian Cousins (London, 1880). His health regained, Inglis edited the Newcastle Morning Herald for a year and became secretary of the Australasian Accident Assurance Association. In 1879 he married Mary (d.1903), née Nichol, and joined Cowan & Co.

The agent of the 'Calcutta Tea Syndicate', Inglis sold tea at the 1880 Sydney International Exhibition. As India's executive commissioner at the 1881 Melbourne Exhibition he was paid £1000 for his report to the Indian government on Indian-Australian trade, and then won the exclusive Sydney agency of the Indian Tea Association of Calcutta. In 1883, with W. P. Brown, he traded as Inglis, Brown & Co. He travelled widely and won renown for his lectures on India and Scottish poets, and was founder, president and trustee of the Commercial Travellers' Association of New South Wales. About 1887 he dissolved his partnership, sold the agency and set up as James Inglis & Co. By 1889 he had taken his buyer, John Parker, into partnership. In 1884 Inglis had bought Craigo in Strathfield where he showed that Indian crops and rare plants could be grown with success. In March 1885 he visited New Zealand and published his letters to the Sydney press in Our New Zealand Cousins (London, 1887).

In 1885-94 Inglis represented New England in the Legislative Assembly. In 1886 he was vice-president of the Freetrade Association. Known as 'Tiger' or 'Rajah', he was described by Sir Charles Dilke as 'an out-and-out free trader, a fluent witty speaker, a popular lecturer, and … author of some … of the stiffest Indian “tiger stories”.' Despite hopes of becoming the first minister of agriculture, he accepted the ministry of public instruction in 1887 under Sir Henry Parkes, whom he admired. After a rebuke he wrote: 'I hope under your wise leadership to become myself a wiser, more thoughtful & more useful man'.

Inglis tried to fulfil the government's promise of retrenchment but was attacked for his economics. He was often baited in the House by those 'birds of evil omen', Ninian Melville the undertaker and Thomas Walker the ex-spiritualist. Inglis's suggestion that technical education should be under 'direct ministerial control' brought him into conflict with the Board of Technical Education, but he was defended by the Sydney Morning Herald. He improved the 'economy and efficiency' of his department despite 4000 new enrolments and 128 new schools. His duties involved country tours and opening 'pestilential bazaars', and while serving his electorate he also found time in 1888 to publish Tent Life in Tigerland, which was travestied by 'Hop' [Hopkins] in the Bulletin. In December the government's decision to lease the tramways involved Inglis in rumours of fraud and corruption. He cleared himself in parliament and before a royal commission, but the government fell next January.

By 1893 James Inglis & Co. were selling over 600,000 lb. (272,155 kg) of 'Billy Tea' and over 1,000,000 lb. (453,592 kg) of packaged teas a year. The firm had a branch in Brisbane and agencies in New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia. In 1892-94 Inglis was twice president of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce but was hard hit by the depression. He invested in several unprofitable mines and sought backing on the London Stock Exchange through his brother Robert, a leading broker, who found his brother Jim 'a bit trying when you try to tackle business as it is understood here'. Ill and worried Inglis went to England in 1894. In April he addressed the Royal Colonial Institute on 'Recent Economic Developments of Australian Enterprise' (Journal, vol. 25, 1893-94) and was elected a fellow. In Edinburgh he published Oor Ain Folk and, after 'a glorious fortnight among the grouse', completed The Humour of the Scot (1894).

Inglis returned to Sydney in February 1896 and as president of the New South Wales Chamber of Mines advocated reform of the 'antiquated' mining laws. Aware of the value of advertising, Inglis sent quartpots filled with 'Khaki blend' tea to New South Wales soldiers in the Boer war. He bought a bundle of lyrics from Angus & Robertson and chose 'Waltzing Matilda' to wrap round 'Billy Tea' as a free gift. The song was set to music by Marie Cowan, his accountant's wife. Later Inglis allowed F. A. Todd to use it in his Australasian Students Song Book. According to the Review, October 1900, he was 'instrumental in getting nearly three-quarters of a million of foreign capital introduced into various ventures in New South Wales'.

In 1901 Inglis withdrew his nomination for the Senate because of his heart condition and his wife's illness. He was a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales, a director of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the Manchester Fire Insurance Co. and several mining companies, a councillor of the Zoological Society of New South Wales, patron of the Retail Grocers' Association, fellow of the London Society of Arts, a member of the Edinburgh University and Athenaeum Clubs and a prominent supporter of Scottish societies. By invitation he wrote odes to celebrate the 'Commonwealth' and 'Coronation Day' and often wrote to the press. In March 1904 James Inglis & Co. was sued for libel by A. C. Godhard of the Co-operative Coupon Co. whose 'coupon system' Inglis had attacked as 'a pernicious incubus'. After direction by Chief Justice Sir Frederick Darley the jury found for Inglis, but after the High Court had granted a new trial the case was settled out of court.

Inglis never 'got over the need for arduous work & plenty of it' to maintain his position. He took up golf and bowls, and his letters showed tenderness to his delicate wife, and humour and warmth to his relations. He died childless at Craigo on 15 December 1908 from kidney disease. Buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood cemetery, he was survived by his second wife Ethel Kate Mason, née Macpherson, whom he had married on 13 December 1905. His estate was valued at £9181 but his debts exceeded his assets by £1443.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • O. A. Mendelsohn, A Waltz with Matilda (Melb, 1966)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1887-88, 4, 24, 1889, 1, 645
  • 'Godhard v. James Inglis & Co., Ltd', State Reports New South Wales, vol 4, 1904, pp 327-35
  • 'Godhard v. James Inglis & Co., Ltd', Weekly Notes (Sydney), vol 21, 1904, pp 134-36
  • 'Godhard v. James Inglis & Co. Ltd.', Commonwealth Law Reports, vol 2, 1904-05, pp 78-93
  • Bulletin, 22 Oct 1881, 2 Mar 1889, 5 Aug 1893
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 1886, 2 June 1887, 3, 16 July, 17 Aug 1888, 17 Mar–1 Apr 1904, 16 Oct 1908
  • Centennial Magazine, 1 (1888-89)
  • Cosmos Magazine, 2 (1896)
  • Banking and Insurance Review, 15 Oct 1900 and 31 Oct 1908
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • letters and scrapbooks (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Inglis, James (1845–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 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

James Inglis (1845-1908), by unknown photographer

James Inglis (1845-1908), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24219595

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Maori

24 November, 1845
Edzell, Forfarshire, Scotland


15 December, 1908 (aged 63)
Strathfield, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.