Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Thompson (1863–1945)

by R. M. Strickland

This article was published:

James Thompson (1863-1945), engineer, was born on 22 August 1863 at Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, son of Thomas Thompson, supervisor, and his wife Mary Henderson, née Logan. The family moved in 1870 to Cork where young James was educated at Carmichael's School and Queen's College (Royal University of Ireland, B.E., 1882). In 1882 he was appointed assistant to Dr Stoney, engineer to the Dublin Docks and Harbours Board, and worked on railway and harbour projects. On 22 December 1888 Thompson married Sarah Highet (d.1900) with Presbyterian forms at Trinity Church, Cork; they were to have one son.

They migrated in 1889 to Melbourne where James was employed in the survey branch of the Victorian Railways. He joined the Public Works Department of Western Australia in 1891 and assisted C. Y. O'Connor in preparing documents for railways. In 1894 Thompson became resident engineer on the Northam-Southern Cross-Kalgoorlie railway and in 1896 engineer in charge of the harbours and rivers branch. After six months acting in the position, he was appointed engineer-in-chief of the department in September 1904. During his term, work was completed on metropolitan water supply and sewerage and drainage projects (1904-12), Fremantle harbour and extensions to Victoria Quay (1908), extensions to North Quay and consequent dredging (1914-15), harbours and rivers improvements at Albany, Bunbury, Hopetoun and Geraldton, roads and bridges, clearing and construction of main and feeder roads in the wheat belt, town water supplies, and drainage and irrigation. He directed all railway construction until 1911: of 4095 miles (6590 km) of government railways built in Western Australia before World War II, 2914 miles (4690 km) of main track were constructed while he controlled the department. In 1909 and 1910 he had also been consulting engineer to the Fremantle Harbour Trust and the Bunbury Harbour Board.

In 1913 Thompson visited Berlin and reported on trials of the Mueller road trains. He inspected the Giovi electric railway near Genoa, and river works in Britain and Europe. In Canada he studied the wheat handling system. He had been elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, in 1899 and became founding president of the Western Australian Institution of Engineers in 1910. A handsome man who kept his full head of hair and luxuriant moustache, he retired in 1925.

On 6 March 1920 at Christ Church, Claremont, Perth, Thompson had married with Anglican rites a divorcee, Constanza Georgina Hardwicke, née Staszewski, who predeceased him. Survived by his son and stepson, he died on 2 January 1945 and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • J. S. H. Le Page, Building a State (Perth, 1986)
  • West Australian, 4 Jan 1945
  • private information.

Citation details

R. M. Strickland, 'Thompson, James (1863–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 August, 1863
Drogheda, Louth, Ireland


2 January, 1945 (aged 81)
New South Wales, Australia

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