FRANCIS, James Goodall (1819-1884)


FRANCIS, James Goodall (1819-1884)
premier of Victoria
was born in London in 1819 and emigrated to Tasmania in 1834. In 1837 he was employed by James Hamilton, a storekeeper at Campbell Town, and three years later was taken into partnership. In October 1840 he visited England to see his parents and in 1847, in partnership with Duncan McPherson, bought the business of Boys and Pointer, merchants, at Hobart. In 1853 Francis opened a branch of this business at Melbourne and took charge of it himself. He was appointed a director of the Bank of New South Wales in 1855 and in 1857 was elected president of the Melbourne chamber of commerce. He was also a director of other companies and was taking a prominent part in the business life of Melbourne. In 1859 he was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Richmond, and was at once appointed vice-president of the board of lands and works and commissioner of public works in the Nicholson (q.v.) ministry. He resigned these positions in September 1860. He was commissioner for trades and customs in the first McCulloch (q.v.), ministry from June 1863, to May 1868, and was treasurer in the third McCulloch ministry from April 1870 until June 1871. When Duffy (q.v.) was defeated a year later Francis became premier and chief secretary. His Ministry passed some important legislation during its life of a little more than two years. Its most important act was one dealing with education, free, compulsory and unsectarian, which continued for a long period to be the basis of primary education in Victoria. A vigorous railway policy resulted in the building of several new lines of railway at a cost of about £2,250,000. Francis also endeavoured to bring in a system to prevent deadlocks between the two houses by providing that if a bill had been passed in two successive sessions of the lower house and rejected by the council, it should be brought before a joint meeting of the two houses. It was, however, feared by some members that this might eventually result in the assembly losing its control of money bills, and the proposal was carried by only two votes and eventually abandoned. Francis had a severe illness in 1874 and though Higinbotham (q.v.) and Service (q.v.) together waited on him with a request that he should remain at the head of the administration, and take leave of absence until his health was restored, Francis found it necessary to resign and retire from politics for a time. He visited England with his family and was away two years. After his return he was elected for Warrnambool in 1878 and retained that seat until his death. He did not desire office, but was an influence in the house and was frequently consulted by individual members. From March to August 1880 he was minister without portfolio in the first Service ministry. His health failed again for the last two years of his life and he died at Queenscliff on 25 January 1884. He was survived by his wife and a family which included at least three sons. He declined a knighthood on three occasions.
Francis was a leading figure in Victorian politics for 20 years. When a young man in Tasmania he pluckily grappled with a burglar and was struck on the head with a hatchet. This was the beginning of the ill-health from which he so frequently suffered, and which prevented him from doing even more important work than he did. He was not a good speaker, his style was too parenthetical and involved, but he always had a grasp of his subject. He was bluff in manner but genuinely kind, and his ability and sturdy honesty of character were recognized by friends and opponents alike.
The Argus, Melbourne, 26 January 1884; The Age, Melbourne, 26 and 28 January 1884: A. S. Kenyon, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XV, p. 96; J. H. Heaton, Australian Dictionary of Dates; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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