Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir James Wallace Sandford (1879–1958)

by Eric Richards

This article was published:

Sir James Wallace Sandford (1879-1958), merchant and politician, was born on 20 March 1879 at Footscray, Melbourne, eldest son of Scottish-born Alexander Wallace Sandford, bacon curer and later merchant and politician, and his Melbourne-born wife Ada Emilie, née Waite. The family moved to Adelaide next year where James attended the Collegiate School of St Peter and the Agricultural College, Roseworthy, before studying at the University of London. He became a fellow of the Chemical Society, London. After touring Europe and the United States of America he returned to Adelaide in 1901 and joined his father's company. Having pioneered intercolonial markets for dairy and other farm produce, A. W. Sandford & Co. were now influential general merchants, food processors and engineers. Alexander died in 1906 and five years later James took control of the company, of which he was chairman and managing director for the rest of his life. It specialized in importing agricultural machinery and general merchandise from Britain.

On 10 April 1907 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Ballarat, Sandford had married Kate Irene MacLeod. By 1916 he was a member of the Adelaide Club and he became a prominent business and public figure in Adelaide between the wars. While he was president of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society in 1921-23, largely through his will and optimism the society obtained its spacious grounds at Wayville. He was on the board of the (Royal) Adelaide Hospital in 1922-28 and a commissioner of South Australian charitable funds in 1929-38. A trustee of the Savings Bank of South Australia (1922-38), member of the Advisory Board of Agriculture, and president of the Taxpayers' Association of South Australia, he represented Australian employers at the eleventh session of the International Labour Conference, Geneva, in 1928. Sandford was chairman of the Overseas Wine Marketing Board in 1929-33 and served on the Commonwealth Grants Commission in 1933-36.

His many directorships included those of the Adelaide Cement Co. Ltd, Sun Insurance Office Ltd and the South Australian Gas Co. (1952-54). President of the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce (1938-39), he was also senior vice-president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia in the same period. In 1937 he was knighted. For twenty-three years he had been consul for Sweden in Adelaide and on retiring in 1939 he was appointed knight commander, Royal Order of Vasa.

Sandford chaired a committee of inquiry into education in 1931, which was so drastic in its cost-cutting recommendations—the introduction of fees and stricter selection procedures to reduce enrolments by 50 per cent in high schools—that the director of education, William Adey, refused to sign the report.

In 1938-56 Sir Wallace represented the Liberal and Country League in the Legislative Council for Central No.2; he advocated reciprocity of trade within the British Empire and stressed the interdependence of industry and primary producers. He regarded capitalism as a delicately balanced machine best untrammelled by too much government. His speeches showed punctilious attention to detail, dry wit and correctness of manner and he was conspicuous for his distinguished white hair and courtly appearance.

The Sandfords' impeccable addresses were at East Terrace, Adelaide, and Mount Lofty; Sir Wallace enjoyed golf and overseas travel, including visits to China and Japan. He died on 9 July 1958 and was cremated. His wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Hughes, A History of the Royal Adelaide Hospital (Adel, 1967)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 6 Jan 1906
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 Apr 1930, 10, 11 July 1958.

Citation details

Eric Richards, 'Sandford, Sir James Wallace (1879–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 March, 1879
Footscray, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


9 July, 1958 (aged 79)

Cultural Heritage

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