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Graham, Sir James (1856–1913)

by Margaret Caldwell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Sir James Graham (1856-1913), physician and politician, was born on 29 July 1856 at Edinburgh, son of Thomas Graham, marble polisher, and his wife Jane, née Square. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh (M.A., 1879; M.B., C.M., 1882). In 1884 he migrated to Sydney and in January 1885 became resident medical officer at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. A year later he resigned to lecture in anatomy at the University of Sydney (M.B. ad eund., 1886). In July he returned to the hospital as medical superintendent. He left for Europe in August 1888, was awarded honorary degrees at Berlin, Paris and Vienna, and for his thesis on 'Hydatid disease in its clinical aspects' won a gold medal at the University of Edinburgh (M.D., 1888). He returned to Sydney in 1889 and was appointed honorary assistant physician at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; in 1896 he became a director on its board. He also lectured to nurses in clinical medicine and later in midwifery at the University of Sydney in 1897-1912. At his private practice in Liverpool Street he had many Chinese patients and at the hospital was reputed 'to see sixty out-patients in twenty minutes', but despite his speed he was very popular.

In July 1894 as a free trader and Liberal Graham was elected for Sydney-Belmore to the Legislative Assembly after a brilliant campaign. He advocated graduated income tax and higher probate duties and in the assembly helped to pass medical and dentistry bills. He was defeated at the election in July 1901 and in 1906 opposed Chris Watson for South Sydney in the Federal parliament without success. In September 1907 as a vice-president of the Liberal Association he won the Labor stronghold of Surry Hills in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly but was defeated in September 1910. A prominent leader in municipal reform he had been elected to the Sydney City Council in 1898. He was president of the Citizens' Vigilance Committee during the 1900 plague scare and in 1901 was elected mayor and knighted by the Duke of York in Sydney. At the end of his term he was given a presentation at the Town Hall and a testimonial from the registered dentists. He then visited England with his wife Fanny, née Millard, whom he had married at Newcastle in 1890; she had been on the nursing staff of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Among his many public offices Graham had helped to found the Women's Hospital in 1895 and was associated with it until 1907. With Professor (Sir) Thomas Anderson Stuart he organized the University of Sydney Medical Society and was its first president in 1886. He was also the first chairman of the Dental Board, a founder and president of the Surgical Appliance Aid Society and the Australian Trained Nurses' Association, a director of Sydney Hospital, a member of the Board of Health, a medical officer of the Benevolent Society, a councillor of the local Royal Society, a trustee of Sydney Grammar School, a director of the City Bank of Sydney and the English, Scottish and Australian Bank and a member of the Australian Club. Under his guidance and influence, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital became an excellent training ground for the medical profession. In parliament and local government he sought to alleviate the needs of the sick and poor, contributed to the establishment of old-age pensions and helped to give Sydney better sanitation. With his firm principles and demands for better medical services he was often in conflict with fellow directors and parliamentarians. He died on 8 March 1913 at Darlinghurst and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife and one son. His estate was valued at £20,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Prince Alfred Hospital Gazette, 1902-13
  • G. H. Abbott, Inaugural address … sixth annual reunion, in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Officers Assn, Year Book, 1935
  • letter books, annual reports, 1883-1900, and newsclippings (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

Margaret Caldwell, 'Graham, Sir James (1856–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/graham-sir-james-3649/text5687, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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