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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Norton, James (1824–1906)

by K. G. Allars

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

James Norton, n.d.

James Norton, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales

James Norton (1824-1906), solicitor, was born on 5 December 1824 in Sydney, eldest son of James Norton and his first wife Jane, née Mackenzie. He was educated at W.and W. T. Cape's schools, Sydney College in 1835-39, by Rev. J. F. Walpole as tutor in 1840 and under Rev. Robert Forrest at Campbelltown in 1841. In 1842 he was articled to his father, admitted a solicitor on 2 July 1848 and joined his father as Norton & Son, later Norton, Son & Barker. On 1 June 1854 at Longford, Tasmania, he married Harriet Mary (d.1860), daughter of deputy commissary general Thomas Walker, and in 1859 bought Ecclesbourne, Double Bay. On 31 December 1862 he married Isabella, sister of Professor W. J. Stephens. A notary public from 1860, Norton became senior partner of his firm, Norton, Smith & Co., and solicitor to the University of Sydney from 1886. His clients included Sir Edward Macarthur.

Norton was also a director of the Australian Gaslight Co., the North Shore Gas Co. and the Australian Joint Stock Bank, a fellow of St Paul's College in the University of Sydney from 1869, an alderman of Double Bay from 1873, an elected trustee of the Australian Museum in 1874-1906, and a trustee of Hyde, Phillip and Cook Parks from 1878 and chairman in 1894-1904. A trustee of the Free Public Library from 1878, he was its chairman in 1890-1906 and as D. S. Mitchell's legal adviser was greatly interested in the building of the Mitchell Library. In 1879 he became a trustee of the Zoological Station, Watson's Bay, and was president of the royal commission on the working of the Real Property Acts and on 7 October was nominated to the Legislative Council. A strong critic of the purity of Sydney's water supply, he advocated its filtering. On 2 May 1884 he became postmaster-general in Alexander Stuart's ministry, but Governor Loftus reported that although Norton was highly 'esteemed his appointment has not been favourably received by public opinion'. When the ministry fell in October 1885 he was criticized by the Daily Telegraph as a 'respectable incapable'.

A member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1873, Norton became a founder of the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1875 and served on its council in 1878-79 and 1881-1906, as treasurer in 1882-97 and president in 1899 and 1900. An 'observer rather than a writer', he studied the indigenous flora and was an ardent horticulturist and vice-president of the Horticultural Society of New South Wales in the 1870s. He met informally with Stephens, R. D. FitzGerald and Edwin Daintree to compare their botanical collections. Norton was very proud of the 'trees and shrubs, especially those of indigenous species, which he cultivated in his fine old garden'. Each spring when his South African bulbs flowered at Ecclesbourne he had a garden party and delighted in his country estate at Springwood where he safeguarded the native plants and compiled a census of its flora. In June 1890 he read a paper on Australian Birds. Useful and Noxious to the conference of fruit-growers and vine-growers, which was published in its report. Earlier that year St Andrews University awarded him an honorary doctorate of laws. In 1891 he was elected a member of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia. He had a fine collection of Australian books and was a committee member of the Union Club.

Norton died at Ecclesbourne on 18 July 1906 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by a son and two daughters of his first wife, and by his second wife and their son and daughter. His estate was sworn for probate at £43,000. FitzGerald named a rare Blue Mountain orchid Adenochilus nortoni after him.

Select Bibliography

  • The Nortons of Sussex and New South Wales (Syd, 1912)
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 32 (1907)
  • J. H. Maiden, ‘Records of Australian botanists’, Royal Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 42 (1908)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 1906
  • C. H. Bertie, ‘Pioneer families’, Home, May 1933
  • manuscript catalogue (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/600, 603.

Citation details

K. G. Allars, 'Norton, James (1824–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 October 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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