Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur James Ogilvy (1834–1914)

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Arthur James Ogilvy (1834-1914), public servant, land reformer and author, was born on 15 April 1834 in Calcutta, son of James Balfour Ogilvy of the Bengal civil service and his wife Anne, née Kinloch; he was descended from the Ogilvies of Inverquharity, Forfarshire. He was educated in Calcutta and at Marlborough College, Wiltshire. After his parents died he sailed for Van Diemen's Land in June 1851 to join his uncle, Captain David Ogilvy, who had acquired a large property near Richmond. On a visit to England Arthur married Mary Camilla Letitia Needham on 8 August 1861 and took her to Tasmania. They lived near Richmond where in 1862 he became a justice of the peace and later a member of the Municipal Council. As secretary of the Richmond Reading Room and Library, he persuaded the government to place it in the old police watch-house. In May 1870 he applied in vain for the post of assistant clerk in the House of Assembly, but in November was appointed chief district constable for the Waterhouse goldfields near George Town and for Emu Bay, at Stanley in 1872 and briefly at Cam River. He resigned about July 1876 and in August he made an indenture with his wife to buy a home in New Town for her and the children while he lived at Inverquharity near Richmond. On 24 October his uncle died, leaving his estate to his wife Caroline Helena and Arthur. He accepted his share of the legacy 'never dreaming that there was any harm in it' but renounced it in 1879 after being 'enlightened' by reading Henry George's Progress and Poverty.

Ogilvy started his writings on economic and social problems with an article on 'National Character' in the Sydney Quarterly Magazine in 1886. Next year he began to issue tracts on the gospel of land nationalization and published The Land in Hobart and Adelaide; he also became founding president of the Tasmanian Land Nationalisation Society and ran its paper, Land and Labour. In 1888 he went to England, where as a vice-president of the parent society he lectured widely, wrote more tracts, corresponded with Gladstone and impressed many other notable people. On returning to Hobart Ogilvy was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 17 November 1890 and read a paper, 'Can strikes really improve the condition of the masses?' In 1892 he published such tracts as The Third Factor of Production and Other Essays and read to the economic and social science section of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in Hobart a paper, 'Is capital the result of abstinence?' He published The Cause of a [Financial] Crisis in 1894 and for the Hobart Mercury wrote 'Labour v. Capital' in 1895 and 'The Appreciation of Gold' in 1897. In June 1896 he had chaired the conference which formed the Democratic League, forerunner of the Tasmanian Labor Party. When asked why he did not sit for parliament he said that he would inevitably introduce a land nationalization bill and when it was rejected would walk out.

By 1900 Ogilvy was turning away from the doctrines of Henry George and finding inconsistencies in single tax. Influenced by Alfred Russel Wallace, who had written an introduction to Ogilvy's Colonists' Pleas for Land Nationalisation in 1892, he took up the study of evolution. He published Elements of Darwinism (London, 1901), in 1905 wrote a novel, Sullivan & Co., and in 1907 published some poetry, Charades, Acrostics and Epigrams. In 1908 he read a paper on 'Altruism' to the Ethical Society in Hobart and in 1913 wrote The Ape Man. He died at Inverquharity on 30 June 1914; his last work, Phases of the Land and Labour Questions, appeared posthumously. He was survived by his son Kenneth (b.1863), warden of Richmond, and by three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Clipper (Hobart), 14 July 1896, 15, 22, 29 Oct 1904, 3 Apr 1908
  • Daily Post (Hobart), 2 July 1914
  • Mercury (Hobart), 2 July 1914
  • Land Nationaliser, Sept 1914
  • CSD 7/28/300, 39/664, 10/50/1090.

Citation details

'Ogilvy, Arthur James (1834–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 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]


15 April, 1834
Kolkata, West Bengal, India


30 June, 1914 (aged 80)
Richmond, Tasmania, Australia

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