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Rowland (Rowley) James (1885–1962)

by L. E. Fredman

This article was published:

Rowland James (1885-1962), by A. Galloway, 1910s

Rowland James (1885-1962), by A. Galloway, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24229406

Rowland (Rowley) James (1885-1962), coalminer and politician, was born on 14 June 1885 at Lambton, New South Wales, youngest of eleven children of Welsh-born parents Moses James, miner, and his wife Mary Ann, née James. Rowley was educated at a public school. He worked in mines in the Newcastle district for twenty-five years, with an interval (1912-16) when he was similarly employed at Collie, Western Australia. At the local Methodist Church on 24 July 1912 he married Gladys Mary Davies. After serving as lodge secretary of the Collie River District Miners' Union of Workers, he returned to New South Wales where he held offices in the Australasian Coal and Shale Employees' Federation, and represented the northern district on the central council.

In 1928 James was elected to the House of Representatives as the Australian Labor Party candidate for the seat of Hunter; he succeeded Matthew Charlton and was to hold the seat until 1958. During the protracted lock-out of miners in northern New South Wales in 1929-30, he criticized in turn the conservative government of S. M. (Viscount) Bruce and the Labor administration of J. H. Scullin for failing to prosecute the mine-owners. Smith's Weekly accused him of inciting mob violence, and, in a further effort to discredit him, published his record of convictions for offences that ranged from drunkenness to assaulting police. Miners and their families dominated James's electorate; their burdens were his constant concern.

As the Depression deepened, he supported J. T. Lang's controversial proposal that the State should default on its interest repayments to British bond-holders. In March 1931 James joined J. A. Beasley's 'Lang Labor Party', comprising seven New South Wales members of Federal parliament. The factional bitterness was intense. James repeated in the House allegations that relief-work was being used to win support for federal Labor. Beasley's group voted with the Opposition in November to defeat the Scullin government. At the ensuing elections the A.L.P. lost heavily; Lang Labor won only four seats.

In 1936 James was readmitted to the A.L.P. A member (1940-46) and chairman (from 1943) of the parliamentary standing committee on public works, he also led the Australian delegation at the first session of the International Labour Organization's coal-mining committee, held in London in 1945. Next year he went on a special overseas mission to inquire into coal-mining. While acting as liaison officer (1943-49) between the government and the local industry, he faced moves to expel him from the Miners' Federation for supporting Prime Minister J. B. Chifley's tough stand on the 1949 coal strike.

'Big, gruff, yet amiable', 'Old Rowley' was a man who disliked convention and who identified with his inward-looking electorate. After being briefly held by H. V. Evatt in 1958-60, James's seat was won by his son Albert who retained it until 1980—exemplifying the tendency of Newcastle and the Hunter to keep Labor seats in the family. James died on 4 July 1962 at Ashfield, Sydney, and was cremated; his wife, daughter and three of his five sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Freudenberg, Cause for Power (Syd, 1991)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 14 Mar 1929, p 1257, 25 Nov 1931, p 1904
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 7 Jan 1950, 5 July 1962.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

L. E. Fredman, 'James, Rowland (Rowley) (1885–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Rowland James (1885-1962), by A. Galloway, 1910s

Rowland James (1885-1962), by A. Galloway, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24229406

Life Summary [details]


14 June, 1885
Lambton, New South Wales, Australia


4 July, 1962 (aged 77)
Ashfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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