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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lorimer, Sir James (1831–1889)

by C. R. Badger

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Sir James Lorimer (1831-1889), politician and businessman, was born on 30 March 1831 in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, son of Thomas Lorimer, merchant, and his wife Catherine, née Walkin. Educated at Hatton Hall Academy, he was articled to a Liverpool softgoods firm trading with America and Africa. Advised for health reasons to take a long voyage, he arrived in Victoria in 1853 and decided to stay. Soon afterwards he founded the firm of Lorimer, Mackie & Co., merchants and shipping agents for the White Star Line. The firm later amalgamated with John Swire & Sons of London and Liverpool, set up a Sydney branch and after his partner retired became known as Lorimer, Rome & Co.

Lorimer was vice-president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce in 1864 and 1867-68 and president in 1868-70. A foundation member and first chairman of the Melbourne Harbor Trust, he supported the appointment of Sir John Coode to report on improvements to the port of Melbourne. Lorimer was dropped as chairman by Berry for party reasons but soon rejoined the trust as a representative for the merchants and traders of Melbourne. He succeeded Sir Francis Murphy as chairman of the local directors of the Bank of Australasia and helped to reorganize it. He was a director of the Bank of New South Wales and of the Northern and Southern Insurance companies. He had helped to form the Free Trade League; he became its president in 1865 but had little taste for political warfare and did not enter politics until 1879 when he was elected to the Legislative Council for Central Province. After redistribution he was elected unopposed in 1884 for Melbourne Province. He joined the Gillies-Deakin ministry in February 1886 as minister of defence. With Deakin and Berry he attended the Colonial Conference in London in 1887 but did not make any notable contribution to the discussion, although Deakin later claimed that Lorimer had mastered the details of the defence questions to be discussed 'more thoroughly than any one at the Conference'. He was appointed K.C.M.G. during the conference.

Lorimer was respected in parliament for his 'deliberate and mature judgment, ready commonsense and temperate demeanor'. He contributed to the work of the Harbor Trust and formation of the harbor battery for the defence of Melbourne. A member of the Committee of Management of Scots Church, Lorimer warmly supported the liberal Charles Strong, especially in 1883, and the proposal for a legal separation of Scots Church from the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. However, he did not join the Australian Church when it was founded in 1885 but remained a nominal Presbyterian.

On 4 March 1858 Lorimer had married Eliza Kenworthy, daughter of the United States consul in Sydney. He died on 6 September 1889 of pleurisy and was buried in St Kilda cemetery, survived by his wife and ten of his eleven children. His estate was sworn for probate at £60,000.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Cowderoy (ed), Melbourne's Commercial Jubilee (Melb, 1901)
  • B. Hoare, Jubilee History of the Melbourne Harbor Trust (Melb, 1927)
  • A. Deakin, The Federal Story, J. A. La Nauze ed (Melb, 1963)
  • C. R. Badger, The Reverend Charles Strong (Melb, 1971)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 Sept 1889
  • Table Talk, 13 Sept 1889
  • Australasian Sketcher, 3 Oct 1889.

Citation details

C. R. Badger, 'Lorimer, Sir James (1831–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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