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James Forester Sullivan (1817–1876)

by G. R. Quaife

This article was published:

James Forester Sullivan (1817-1876), by Batchelder & O'Neill

James Forester Sullivan (1817-1876), by Batchelder & O'Neill

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H37475/42

James Forester Sullivan (1817-1876), businessman and politician, was born at Waterford, Ireland, son of James Sullivan, merchant, and his wife Margaret, née Forrester. Left fatherless, he went to Liverpool about 1830 but later absconded to sea and then settled in the United States of America. He worked as a backwoodsman, timber merchant and shipping and plantation entrepreneur. In 1845 he interrupted law studies at Franklin, Indiana, to fight in the war between Mexico and the United States. He volunteered for the Louisiana Guards and later secured a commission. Gold attracted him to California in 1848, but when he heard of the Australian gold discoveries he bought the Long Island and, with cargo and fare-paying passengers, sailed for Sydney where in April 1853 he sold the ship and goods. He was in Melbourne in June, but soon moved to Bendigo as a partner in a jewellery business. He was granted the first liquor licence in the town in May 1854 and conducted a business known as the Red Store until 1861.

Sullivan at once interested himself in local affairs. He was prominent in the formation of the first Sandhurst municipality in 1855 and was chairman twice. He also participated in the founding of the Mechanics' Institute, the Digger Defence Council, the Sandhurst Fire Brigade, the Bendigo Hospital, the Benevolent Asylum, the Bendigo Land League and the Bendigo Agricultural and Horticultural Society. In 1856 he was defeated for Sandhurst Boroughs in the Legislative Assembly, being depicted as the shopkeepers' candidate by his radical mining opponents. In the next five years Sullivan became a director or shareholder in various enterprises, including the Bendigo Mercury and the Bendigo Gas Co.

In 1861 Sullivan was elected unopposed for the seat of Mandurang and became commissioner of trade and customs in the Heales ministry from 10 June to 14 November. He served on the Burke and Wills commission in the same year. From June 1863 to July 1866 he was minister for mines in the first (Sir) James McCulloch government and fought strongly and successfully for the unpopular Coliban scheme to harness water for his electorate. In 1865 he represented Victoria at the Dublin International Exhibition. He was vice-president of the Board of Land and Works and commissioner of railways and roads from 4 March 1867 to 6 May 1868, minister of mines from 11 July to 20 September 1869, vice-president of the Board of Land and Works from 1 February to 20 September, and commissioner of railways and roads from 12 April to 2 September 1869. He was on the royal commission on federal union in 1870. He did not stand for re-election in 1871 and visited America to bring back his brother's four orphaned children. A liver complaint limited his activity, but he was returned for Collingwood in 1874. In 1875 he served on the royal commission on volunteer forces.

Sullivan had married Alice, née Redpath, on 5 January 1857 according to the rites of the Wesleyan Church; they had no children. Aged 59, he died on 3 February 1876 and was buried as a Methodist. His estate was sworn for probate at £1530. An able and successful businessman, Sullivan applied his wide experience to community service. He was a forceful speaker and an honest, determined and independent politician with radical sympathies. Gentle and genial, he was generous of both his time and money. His portrait by Alice Chapman is in the Bendigo Art Gallery.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Mackay, The History of Bendigo (Melb, 1891)
  • F. Cusack, Bendigo: A History (Melb, 1973)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Feb 1876.

Citation details

G. R. Quaife, 'Sullivan, James Forester (1817–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Forester Sullivan (1817-1876), by Batchelder & O'Neill

James Forester Sullivan (1817-1876), by Batchelder & O'Neill

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H37475/42

Life Summary [details]


Waterford, Waterford, Ireland


3 February, 1876 (aged ~ 59)
Victoria, Australia

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