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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Roberts, James Henry Cecil (1877–1961)

by Denise K. Conroy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

James Henry Cecil Roberts (1877-1961), farmer and politician, was born on 1 June 1877 in London, son of Edwin Roberts, surgeon, and his wife Eliza Cecil, née Taylor, while his parents, who had settled at Toowoomba, Queensland, in the mid-1860s, were on a holiday trip. Cecil Roberts was educated at Toowoomba Grammar School and at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College, New South Wales (1897-98). His father bought 5000 acres (2023 ha) of Westbrook estate, Kingsthorpe, Queensland, from Sir Patrick Jennings, named it Croxley and built a homestead in 1897.

When Cecil married Florence Alice Blackwell in Sydney on 27 March 1901, Edwin gave his son a part of the property, where Cecil had already established a stud of milking shorthorns. He built his own home and set up Queensland's first Suffolk Punch stud, a breed of farm horses which rivalled the Clydesdales, and introduced new breeds of long-haired sheep from Tasmania and New Zealand. He later changed from Australian Illawarra Shorthorns to stud Jerseys.

In July 1911 Roberts founded the Darling Downs Farmers' Union, an anti-Labor organization dedicated to guarding the interests of primary producers against speculators and to controlling marketing procedures. He was successful in having membership extended to sons, daughters (14-18 years) and wives of owners and occupiers of pastoral and agricultural lands. Roberts advocated the co-operation of the D.D.F.U. with the People's Progressive League and led a move to 'effect a national combination of farmers'; the result was the Queensland Farmers' Union, formed in December 1911 with Roberts as president until 1919 when it joined other organizations in the Primary Producers' Union. An abortive move by branches of the Q.F.U. to carry out the resolution by Toowoomba farmers in 1916 to seek the establishment of a State wheat pool, along Commonwealth guidelines for control and management of flour and wheat exports under the current War Precautions Act, did not deter Roberts. He lobbied for a wheat pool both before and after he entered State parliament as a Country member for Pittsworth on 9 October 1920. The Wheat Pool Act was passed on 26 November.

Roberts served only one term in parliament until 11 May 1923, as the Labor government's redistribution of 1921 abolished three country electorates, including Pittsworth. In the 1923 election his electorate became Cunningham, which was won by W. A. Deacon (Country Party); Roberts had contested it as an Independent Country Party member. His political involvements, however, continued for many years and he was one of the conveners of a meeting which formed a separate Queensland Country Party on 4 March 1936.

His other activities included a directorship of the Downs Co-operative Dairy Association Ltd, 1932-41 (chairman of directors for four years), first presidency of the Oakey Agricultural and Pastoral Society formed in 1905 and, for thirty years, membership of the committee of the Royal Agricultural Society of Toowoomba. At various times he was also president of the Toowoomba Tennis Association, the reformed Rugby Union Club and the Toowoomba Cricket Club. Roberts died on 14 September 1961 at St Vincent's Hospital, Toowoomba, survived by one of his two sons, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox, History of Queensland (Brisb, 1923)
  • S. R. Davis (ed), The Government of the Australian States (Lond, 1960)
  • U. Ellis, A History of the Australian Country Party (Melb, 1963)
  • D. Fraser et al, Administrative History in Queensland (Brisb, 1986)
  • Producer's Review, 10 Nov, 10 Dec 1919, 10 Mar 1920
  • Brisbane Courier, 19, 26 July, 30 Sept 1911
  • Toowoomba Chronicle, 16 Sept 1961
  • Z. A. b. A. Wahid, The Origins and Development of the Country Party 1909-1932 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1958)
  • W. H. Armstrong, Development of the State Wheat Board to 1920 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1981)
  • A. J. Campbell, Memoirs of the Country Party in Queensland, 1920-1974 (manuscript, State Library of Queensland)
  • H. S. Hunter, A History of the Queensland State Wheat Board (manuscript, Dept of Primary Industries, Brisbane).

Citation details

Denise K. Conroy, 'Roberts, James Henry Cecil (1877–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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