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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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MacGregor-Dowsett, James Harvey (Jim) (1899–1990)

by Charles Fahey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

James MacGregor-Dowsett, 1946

James MacGregor-Dowsett, 1946

Australian War Memorial, 099978

James Harvey Hamilton MacGregor-Dowsett (1899-1990), community leader and charity worker, was born on 14 August 1899 at Launceston, Tasmania, second of five children of Frank Herbert Dowsett, draper, and his wife Mary, née Harvey.  Jim’s family moved to Geelong, Victoria, when he was 4.  Attending Matthew Flinders and Ashby State schools, he won a scholarship to Geelong Church of England Grammar School.  He also attended Gordon Technical College and studied accountancy at Hemingway & Robertson.  A member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, on 29 January 1921 he joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force and served in New Guinea until May, when he transferred to the New Guinea Public Service.  In 1926 he resigned to join the Edie Creek gold rush.  He married Jessie Margaret McDowell, a nurse, on 30 June 1928 at Salamaua Beach.  They settled at Kavieng, New Ireland, and he managed the Kavieng Club.  In 1931 they moved to Rabaul, New Britain, where he operated a store before establishing a cocoa plantation on the north coast.

Having joined the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles on the outbreak of World War II, on 1 July 1940 Dowsett transferred to the Australian Imperial Force and in the following February was posted to the Middle East with the 2/14th Field Company.  He served in intelligence and returned to Army Headquarters in Australia in March 1942 before transferring in December to the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit; he worked with the native labour section.  Promoted to lieutenant in June 1943, he rose to temporary captain in December 1945.  He joined the Reserve of Officers on 9 November 1946.

Dowsett’s plantation was destroyed during the war and he was forced to leave the tropics because of poor health.  Now styling his surname MacGregor-Dowsett, he returned to Geelong, where he operated a grocery and ironmongery business for ten years and then worked as an insurance agent.  He served (1952-79) on the Geelong City Council and was mayor (1971-73).  In 1955 he stood unsuccessfully as an Independent Liberal for the seat of Geelong West in the Legislative Assembly.  He had been a foundation member (1921) in New Guinea of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia (from 1965 the Returned Services League of Australia), and served (1954-66) on the league’s Victorian State council; he was named a life member in 1957.  A member from 1964 of the council of the Victorian branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society, he was named a life member in 1974.

A 'tireless charity worker', MacGregor-Dowsett was appointed OBE in 1972 and CBE in 1976.  In 1974 he became the first president of the Victorian Association of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  He was a life governor of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, was chairman (1970-73) of the University for Geelong Committee, which pressed for the establishment of Deakin University, and was an active member of the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem.  Interested in music, he was a noted bagpiper and a life member of several Geelong bands.  Survived by his wife and their four daughters and two sons (a daughter and son having predeceased him), he died on 13 February 1990 at Highton and was buried with Uniting Church forms in Eastern cemetery, Geelong.

Select Bibliography

  • Geelong Advertiser, 14 February 1990, p 1
  • Geelong Advertiser, 16 February 1990, p 2
  • Corian, December 1990, p 130
  • B2455, item Dowsett J H (National Archives of Australia)
  • B883, item NGX61 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Charles Fahey, 'MacGregor-Dowsett, James Harvey (Jim) (1899–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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