Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Litchfield (1825–1905)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

James Litchfield (1825-1905), pastoralist and sheep breeder, was born at Elmdon, Essex, England, son of James Litchfield, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Hayden. On 6 January 1852 at Great Chesterford, Essex, he married Anne Sherrin. They arrived at Sydney in May with mixed farming experience and good recommendations. After some months in Sydney and with W. Bradley's family at Lansdowne, Goulburn, he accepted the post of overseer at Coolringdon, the headquarters of Bradley's stations in the Monaro, and some three years later of manager of Bradley's Myalla station. Like W. A. Brodribb he was encouraged and helped by Bradley to occupy land for himself. However, he decided to conserve his capital until the 1861 Land Act was passed and on 8 April 1862 selected 320 acres (130 ha) on Jillamatong Creek, Monaro.

Litchfield gradually built up his holdings by selection and purchase, and gave evidence how he did it to a parliamentary select committee on the administration of the land law in February 1874. He took up selections in the names of his children and employees because he approved of 'dummying' so long as it promoted settlement. He disliked the subterfuges that he and others had been practising but claimed that they would remain a necessary evil until the law was changed to conform with economic realities. He insisted that the minimum size for a viable pastoral freehold should be 2560 acres (1036 ha) and not 320 acres (130 ha). By 1884 he held over 20,000 acres (8094 ha) in the Monaro and the value of his wool clip from 15,000 sheep was £3180. In March 1881 his evidence to the select committee on assisted immigration, which he favoured, gave details of the progress and problems of agriculture and grazing in the Monaro in 1851-81.

In 1865 Litchfield, with the aim of producing a strain well adapted to the hard Monaro environment, had established near Cooma the Hazeldean merino stud, which became famous not only in the colonies but also abroad. Starting with the progeny of Rambouillet ewes he began to import merinos, mostly of Saxon descent from Tasmanian studs in 1881, and in the early 1890s the famous Wanganella strain was introduced to his stud.

Intelligent and hard-working he established himself and his family by shrewdness and courage at a time and location where political, economic and environmental factors combined to spell ruin for the less skilful and resolute. He never entered politics but was keenly aware of the main issues and concerned about land and labour questions. Active in local associations, he was a member and spokesman for the Free Selectors' Association of Cooma, a president of the Cooma Pastoral and Agricultural Association and interested in the local Church of England and School of Arts. Though prominent in having the railway extended to Cooma he opposed the payment of parliamentarians and voted against Federation.

In 1891 Litchfield divided his estate, comprising Hazeldean, Woodstock, Springwell and Matong, among his four sons and retired to Sydney. He died at his residence, Havilah, Burlington Road, Homebush, on 20 August 1905, survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters. He was buried in the Anglican cemetery at Rookwood.

Select Bibliography

  • C. McIvor, The History and Development of Sheep Farming from Antiquity to Modern Times (Syd, 1893)
  • F. F. Mitchell, ‘Back to Cooma’ Celebrations (Syd, 1926)
  • W. K. Hancock, Discovering Monaro (Cambridge, 1972)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, 3, 995, 1880-81, 3, 286
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Aug 1905
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Sept 1905
  • Perkins papers (National Library of Australia)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Litchfield, James (1825–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Elmdon, Essex, England


20 August, 1905 (aged ~ 80)
Homebush, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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