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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Case, James Thomas (1884–1921)

by D. J. Murphy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

James Thomas Case (1884-1921), cartoonist, was born on 21 March 1884 at Boggy Creek near Caboolture, Queensland, son of Thomas Joseph Case, gardener, and his wife Margaret Elizabeth, née Feenan. Leaving school at 14, he worked in the machine-room of the Brisbane Worker where it was part of his duty to take the drawings of Monty Scott to the engraver. While still in his teens, Case became a painter and decorator. He maintained his contacts with the Worker and occasional cartoons by him, published therein through 1906 and 1907, showed an aptitude for drawing and a keen sensitive feeling for political humour.

In February 1908 the Worker was expanded. The editor, H. E. Boote, conducted a competition to produce a cartoon from a blank outline of a human face, which Case won. He was employed as its artist and produced the front-page cartoon of May Day in Brisbane. For the rest of that year he shared the work with Scott but, from February 1909, became the official cartoonist. When the Daily Standard was established by the labour movement in December 1912, Case also produced cartoons for that paper.

His cartoons and drawings showed both artistry and wit. Honest upright workmen battled 'Fat' and 'Boodle', whose demise was imminent, as well as unscrupulous Liberal politicians like Digby Denham and Sir Robert Philp and Labor renegades like William Kidston. Case's depiction of a shocked maiden 'Australia' drawing back the Queensland curtain to reveal the police brutally clubbing Brisbane workers on 'Black Friday' during the 1912 general strike became a classic among Australian political cartoons. 'Australia' was rather scantily clad about the bosom in the original cartoon, but was more fully covered in the reproductions for postcards and for the posters which were hung in union offices and in the homes of Labor stalwarts. His national reputation was made as an anti-conscription cartoonist in 1916 and 1917. During the two referenda his work appeared in Labor and union papers throughout Australia.

In October 1920 Case accepted a position on Sydney Truth. Only a few months after arriving in Sydney, he was found to have cancer; he died at Bondi on 24 October 1921. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth Victoria, née Hancock, whom he had married at Brisbane on 1 January 1914, and by a son and a daughter. At his own request his body was returned to Brisbane to be buried in Bulimba cemetery with Anglican rites.

Case's cartoons represented political and industrial Labor in Queensland in its most radical phase. In the 1940s and 1950s the Queensland Worker, lacking a comparable cartoonist, reprinted his work, which was also used in Labor in Politics (Brisbane, 1972) and The Emergence of the Australian Party System (Sydney, 1977).

Select Bibliography

  • Worker (Brisbane), 4 Mar 1911, 28 Oct 1921
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 25 Oct 1921.

Citation details

D. J. Murphy, 'Case, James Thomas (1884–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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