Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stanbury, James (Jim) (1868–1945)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

James (Jim) Stanbury (1868-1945), sculler, was born on 25 February 1868 at Mullet Island, Broken Bay, New South Wales, son of James Stanbury, a farm labourer from Devonshire, and his Sydney-born wife Catherine, née Reilly. Several years later the family shifted to Nowra where young James learned to row on the Shoalhaven. In 1887 he moved to Sydney to join the professional sculling ranks and within a year had stunned onlookers by finishing a close second when Henry Searle set a Parramatta River record.

Contemporaries described Stanbury's rowing as rough, with most of the drive coming from his arms: Bill Beach claimed he had never seen so much power gained from such bad rowing. Beach and another former world champion, Peter Kemp, took him in hand; Stanbury confirmed his early promise when he captured John McLean's world title on 28 April 1891. He defended the title successfully in July 1891 and in May next year trounced Tom Sullivan, the New Zealand champion.

With no Australian willing to challenge him, Stanbury left in February 1893 for the United States of America to row against Canadian Jacob Gaudaur, but returned to Australia when terms could not be settled. Following Stanbury's successful defence of his title against Charles Harding, the English champion, in July 1896 in London, Gaudaur agreed to race over the neutral Thames course. In a contest where Stanbury claimed a foul, Gaudaur took the world title on 7 September. The Australian was received coolly in Sydney for having refused to row out the match at racing speed.

After another Australian, George Towns, had wrested the championship from Gaudaur (1901), Stanbury challenged Towns; in July 1905 he surprised the champion by regaining the title, but next year he was easily defeated. The moustachioed Stanbury was well-built, with a 'great development of muscle', which caused one observer to comment that he looked 'ridiculously out of proportion to his little boat'. His racing weight in 1891 was 12 st. 4 lb. (78 kg), his chest was 41½ ins (105 cm) and he stood 5 ft 11½ ins (182 cm) tall.

Like many other professional scullers, Big Jim Stanbury had made his headquarters at Ryde. He found lodgings at the Royal Hotel where he met the licensee's daughter, Eliza Jane ('Dolly') Jordan, whom he married in Sydney on 4 January 1893. After living briefly at Waterfall, where he was a (Royal) National Park caretaker, Stanbury bought an orchard at North Ryde and sold peaches, plums and nectarines until handing over active management to his son James in 1940. Survived by his wife, six daughters and a son, he died on 11 December 1945 at Ryde and was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Field of Mars cemetery. At Gladesville, so long the haunt of those whom A. B. Paterson described as aquatic gladiators, Stanbury Street lies close by Beach, Kemp, Searle and Towns streets.

Select Bibliography

  • Referee (Sydney), 19 July 1888, 29 Apr 1891, 14 July 1896, 19, 22, 26 July 1905, 25, 30 July 1906
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Apr 1891, 14 July 1896, 30 July 1906
  • private information.

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Stanbury, James (Jim) (1868–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 2 December 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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