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James Hiers McColl (1844–1929)

by Amanda M. Rolfe

This article was published:

James Hiers McColl (1844-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

James Hiers McColl (1844-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24282759

James Hiers McColl (1844-1929), politician and legal manager, was born on 31 January 1844 at South Shields, Durham, England, son of Hugh McColl and his first wife Jane, née Hiers. The family arrived in Melbourne in January 1853, but Jane had died just before the ship berthed; Hugh remarried in 1856. James was educated at the Model School, Sandhurst (Bendigo), and briefly at Scotch College, Melbourne, leaving to work in a general store at Sandhurst in 1857. Intending to be a mechanical engineer, he served an apprenticeship in fitting and turning at the iron foundry of J. Horwood & Sons. On 1 January 1867 he married Emily Boyle (d.1898) at Sydney Flat, Bendigo. In 1873 James became an insurance agent and legal manager of companies with R. A. Rankin in the firm McColl & Rankin, which his father started in 1871.

Hugh McColl was a fervent supporter of irrigation and closer settlement and James took up these causes after his father's death in 1885. He won the Legislative Assembly seat of Mandurang in 1886 by a huge majority. In 1889 the seat was subdivided and McColl successfully contested the new seat of Gunbower. He was minister of mines and of water supply in the Patterson ministry (January 1893–September 1894) and commissioner of crown lands and survey, minister of forests and president of the Board of Land and Works in the McLean ministry (December 1899–November 1900). Regarded as 'one of the soundest authorities in Victoria on agricultural and mining questions', he pressed for closer settlement under irrigation and dry farming conditions, taking pride in the fact that as minister for lands he purchased the first Victorian estates to be divided for closer settlement. He was also determined to eliminate abuses connected with mining law.

A strong supporter of Federation, in March 1901 he won the Federal seat of Echuca and soon became known as one of the 'solid, able men of the Liberal party'. In 1907-14 he sat in the Senate where he was admired for his vigorous debating and 'unshrinking honesty of purpose'. He was vice-president of the Executive Council in the Cook ministry (June 1913–September 1914) and a temporary chairman of committees in 1907-12.

Believing that Victoria's permanent prosperity lay in agricultural and mining development, McColl attended a dry farming congress in the United States of America in 1909 at his own expense and presented a report to the Deakin government. He was among the first to expound the virtues of dry farming in Australia but his support of the prickly pear as a 'fine stand by for stock' proved misguided. Defeated in 1914, McColl purchased an irrigation property at Gunbower, north of Bendigo, in 1917 and lived there for some years before retiring to Deepdene, Melbourne.

A Presbyterian and a Freemason, he taught at St Andrew's Sunday school, Bendigo, for fifty-five years. McColl died on 20 February 1929 in Melbourne and was buried in Bendigo cemetery. On 29 January 1900 he had married Sarah Ann Thomas at Stawell. She survived him with two sons and a daughter and two daughters of McColl's first marriage. His son Hugh had been killed in France in World War I.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Australian Mining Standard, 6 May 1893, p 245
  • Punch (Melbourne), 4 Jan 1906, 28 Dec 1911, 20 Nov 1924
  • Age (Melbourne), 21 Feb 1929
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21, 22 Feb 1929
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 22, 25 Feb 1929.

Citation details

Amanda M. Rolfe, 'McColl, James Hiers (1844–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Hiers McColl (1844-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

James Hiers McColl (1844-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24282759

Life Summary [details]


31 January, 1844
South Shields, Durham, England


20 February, 1929 (aged 85)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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