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David James (1854–1926)

by R. H. B. Kearns

This article was published:

David James (1854-1926), contractor, mining promoter and politician, was born at Nantyglo, near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales, son of Rees James and his wife Mary. He worked in the coal-mines as a youth. After Rees's death, James migrated to Adelaide in 1877 with his mother and family. They settled at Kapunda where James became a contractor and worked at fencing and well and dam-sinking. At Semaphore on 19 February 1883 he married Emily Davies, a servant from Abergavenny.

That year, with his partner Jim Poole, James was sinking dams at Mount Gipps sheep-station in western New South Wales. In September Charles Rasp persuaded them to join him in pegging a mineral claim there. James drove the first peg in the hill — which was to become Broken Hill — containing the world's richest lead-silver-zinc deposit. The 'syndicate of seven' under the leadership of George McCulloch pegged additional leases and formed the Broken Hill Mining Co. During the uncertain prospecting period before the discovery of rich silver chlorides in 1885, James sold one half of his syndicate share for £110, and another quarter for £1800. He retained the remaining quarter-share interest and thus, in August 1885, was entitled to an initial allotment of 500 shares in the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd.

He returned to Kapunda where he was elected to the municipal council next year, and was mayor in 1888-89 and 1900-05; he always directed that his mayoral allowance be distributed to charitable causes. He was prominent in the local agricultural societies, racing club and Anglican church, and was several times chairman of the hospital board. In 1909 he bought into the Kapunda Herald. In 1894 James had bought an estate near Kapunda which he renamed Coalbrook Vale after a mining locality near his birth-place. He established a stud, producing horses which won races in Adelaide and Melbourne; in 1895 his three-year-old filly Auraria won the Melbourne Cup at odds of 50/1. In 1902 he was elected to the House of Assembly, representing the new constituency of Wooroora. He supported all legislation effecting pastoral and agricultural reforms, and the introduction of the Warren water scheme. An unobtrusive man, he was opposed to extremes, but was broadminded and progressive. Because of his part in the discovery of the famous Broken Hill mining field, James was associated with the development of other silver and gold-mining enterprises in South Australia and Western Australia. He continued to trade in B.H.P. scrip and in 1890 held shares valued at approximately £100,000 but by 1901 had disposed of his entire holding.

Emily James died in March 1925 and James married Ada Mullen at Kapunda in August. Having been diabetic for some years he died in Ru Rua Hospital, Adelaide, on 21 July 1926 and was buried at Kapunda. His wife and two daughters and a son from his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Bridges, From Silver to Steel (Melb, 1920)
  • Lord Casey, Australian Father and Son (Lond, 1966)
  • R. H. B. Kearns, Broken Hill 1883-1893 (Broken Hill, 1973)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 22 July 1926
  • Kapunda Herald, 23 July 1926
  • Observer (Adelaide), 24 July 1926
  • manuscript biography of D. James prepared by family and correspondence of Mrs M. E. James (privately held)
  • information from Corporate Archivist, Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, Melbourne, and Christ Church Rectory, Kapunda, South Australia.

Citation details

R. H. B. Kearns, 'James, David (1854–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 July 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]


Nantyglo, Monmouthshire, Wales


21 July, 1926 (aged ~ 72)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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