DICKSON, Sir James Robert (1832-1901)


DICKSON, Sir James Robert (1832-1901)
premier of Queensland
was born at Plymouth, England, on 30 November 1832. His family having removed to Glasgow, Dickson was educated at the high school and became a junior clerk in the City of Glasgow Bank. He emigrated to Victoria in 1854, and for some years was connected with banking and commercial interests. He was in business in New South Wales for a short period, but in 1862 went to Queensland and became an auctioneer and commission agent at Brisbane. He remained in this business until 1889 when he retired and handed it over to a son. In 1873 he was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Enoggera, retaining the seat until 1888. In May 1876 he joined the Macalister (q.v.) ministry as secretary for public works and mines, and when the George Thorn (q.v.) ministry came in he was given the position of colonial treasurer. This was only a stop-gap ministry, but when Thorn was succeeded by John Douglas (q.v.) Dickson still retained his position. In July 1877 he moved a motion to divide the colony into districts for financial purposes. There was then a strong feeling in northern Queensland in favour of the division of the colony into two. Dickson's bill went through the second-reading stage but was eventually dropped. In 1881 he became leader of the opposition during the absence of Sir Samuel Griffith (q.v.) in Europe, and again became colonial treasurer in December 1883 under Griffith. He was acting-premier while Griffith was in England at the colonial conference of 1887, but in August resigned his portfolio on account of his disagreement with his colleagues over their land policy. He lost his seat in 1888 after a re-arrangement of electorates, and spent some time travelling in Europe. After his return he supported the movement in favour of importing coloured labour for work in the tropics, and in April 1892 was elected to the legislative assembly for Bulimba by a large majority. He became secretary for railways and postmaster-general in the Nelson (q.v.) ministry early in 1897, and in March 1898 home secretary. When the T. J. Byrnes (q.v.) ministry was formed he was again home secretary. On the death of Byrnes in September 1898 Dickson became premier and held the position until December 1899. The Dawson (q.v.) ministry which succeeded lasted only a few days, and Dickson then was appointed chief secretary in the Robert Philp (q.v.) ministry. He had always been an advocate of federation and had represented Queensland in the federal councils of 1886 and 1887, and in 1899 ably supported the cause during the campaign before the second referendum. He represented Queensland as one of the delegates in England in connexion with the passing of the Commonwealth bill by the house of commons, and sided with Chamberlain in the great fight over the proposed abolition of the right of appeal from the high court of Australia to the privy council. Returning to Australia he was elected to the first federal parliament, and was given the portfolio of minister of defence in the first ministry. His health had not been good for some time and he died after a short illness on 10 January 1901. He had been created K.C.M.G. a few days before. He married twice and was survived by his second wife and several sons and daughters of the first marriage.
Dickson was courteous and kindly, a successful business man and director of companies, with a good knowledge of figures and a ready tongue. He was constantly in office, but though a useful man in the cabinet he lacked the force of character to enable him to be a great leader.
The Brisbane Courier, 10 and 11 January 1901; The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1901; C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years; W. Murdoch, Alfred Deakin, a Sketch; Quick and Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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