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James Robert Wilshire (1809–1860)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

James Robert Wilshire (1809-1860), by unknown photographer, 1856

James Robert Wilshire (1809-1860), by unknown photographer, 1856

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/5

James Robert Wilshire (1809-1860), manufacturer and politician, was born on 29 July 1809 in Sydney, second son of James Wilshire and his wife Esther, née Pitt. Educated at Dr Laurence Halloran's school, in 1840 he and his brother Austin Forrest (1811-1889) took over his father's large tannery on Brickfield Hill, which also included fellmongering and the making of soap, candles, glue and parchment. Gradually the ancillary operations were discontinued because of lack of skilled workmen; but tanning and currying continued until 1860 when legislation forbade such trades in the city. In the depressed 1840s the Wilshires were obliged to call their creditors together, but later fully met their liabilities. In the 1850s 'when the tannery was not half worked' it showed an average profit of £1700 a year.

Politically active, Wilshire was elected to the Sydney Municipal Council for Phillip Ward in 1842 and was mayor in 1844. Defeated for the Counties of Cook and Westmoreland seat in the Legislative Council in 1843 he joined with Jabez Heydon and (Sir) Henry Parkes to canvass for Robert Lowe for Sydney in 1848. On Lowe's resignation in 1849 Wilshire lost the seat to Dr William Bland despite the support of the Constitutional Association. With Parkes, (Sir) Archibald Michie and other radicals he helped Rev. John Dunmore Lang begin the Australian League dedicated to land reform and the abolition of transportation and imperial patronage. Though 'not a fluent or effective public speaker' he was conspicuous in the anti-transportation movement and the agitation for responsible government. In 1850 he was chairman of a committee to set up a newspaper edited by Lang. He represented the City of Sydney in the Legislative Council in 1855-56, and was one of the 'bunch' that defeated John Hubert Plunkett for the Sydney (City) seat in the new Legislative Assembly in 1856. One of sixteen native-born members in a House of fifty-four, he represented the seat until December 1857, supporting (Sir) Charles Cowper. Defeated at the next general election he was appointed to the Legislative Council in March 1858.

A magistrate from 1844, Wilshire was a committee-man of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales and a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales. Intestate, he died of paralytic neuralgia at Darlinghurst on 30 August 1860; he was buried in the Church of England section of the Devonshire Street cemetery and reinterred in 1901 in the Gore Hill cemetery. He was survived by two sons and three daughters of his first wife Elizabeth (d.1846), daughter of Joseph Thompson, whom he had married at St James's Anglican Church on 13 August 1836; and by his second wife Sarah (d.1912), her sister, whom he married on 29 May 1847 with Congregational rites, and by their two sons and four daughters. His eldest son James Thompson (1837-1909) represented Canterbury in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1889-91. His intestate personalty was valued at £3000.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Roe, Quest for Authority in Eastern Australia 1835-1851 (Melb, 1965)
  • J. N. Molony, An Architect of Freedom (Canb, 1973)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1862, 5, 1121, 1865, 2, 843
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10, 13 May, 10, 13 Aug 1850, 31 Aug 1860
  • Town and Country Journal, 23 Nov 1889
  • G. P. Walsh, A History of Manufacturing in Sydney, 1788-1850 (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1969).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Wilshire, James Robert (1809–1860)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 29 May 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 Robert Wilshire (1809-1860), by unknown photographer, 1856

James Robert Wilshire (1809-1860), by unknown photographer, 1856

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/5

Life Summary [details]


29 July, 1809
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 August, 1860 (aged 51)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.