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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Russell, James (1829–1889)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

James Russell (1829-1889), merchant and politician, was born at Falkirk, Scotland, son of William Russell, carter, and his wife Marion, née Duiguid. He arrived in Victoria in 1853 and went to the Creswick goldfield. From his gains as an original shareholder in the old Temperance mine at Little Bendigo, he set up as a produce and grocery merchant in Humffray Street, Ballarat East, in 1869. From about 1882 he also partnered Joseph Foster in a timber business.

In 1871-78 and 1882-89 Russell was a councillor of Ballarat East and mayor in 1874-75 and 1886-87. A supporter of G. Berry, in 1877 he failed to win Ballarat East in the Legislative Assembly; in 1880 he defeated D. Brophy for the seat but lost in July after parliament had been dissolved. He held the seat again in 1883-89. A total abstainer, he based much of his support on the temperance and Orange movements. He attended the International Temperance Convention in Melbourne in November 1888.

Always a strong advocate of local industry, Russell was an early shareholder and for some years a director of the Ballarat Woollen Mill Co. A lay preacher and senior steward at the Barkly Street Wesleyan Methodist Church he was an active member of the Wesleyan Local Preachers' Association. He was a leading Rechabite and Freemason and as a justice of the peace he was noted for his sound judgments and desire to reform by kindly measures. He was a committee-man of the Public Library and of many local charitable institutions including the town mission and the Ballarat Orphan and Benevolent asylums. He was also vice-president of the local brass band. In October 1887 he was appointed to the Ballarat Water Commission.

Russell was a member of the royal commission on gold-mining in 1889 but took ill and died of acute hepatitis on 17 October, aged 60. His funeral procession to the Ballarat cemetery was attended by many Freemasons, Orangemen, members of the Old Colonists Association, Rechabites and members of other temperance organizations. On 17 March 1860, aged 26, he had married at Creswick Creek near Ballarat, Elizabeth Jane Nankervis, who survived him together with two of their four sons and four of their seven daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £8503.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Serle, The Rush to be Rich (Melb, 1971)
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Oct 1889
  • Ballarat Star, 18 Oct 1889
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Oct 1889
  • J. Oldmeadow, Ballarat Methodism 1870-1877 (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1969).

Citation details

Suzanne G. Mellor, 'Russell, James (1829–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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