GRANT, James Macpherson (1822-1885)


GRANT, James Macpherson (1822-1885)
politician
was born at Alvie, Invernesshire, Scotland, in 1822. He emigrated to Sydney with his parents in 1836 and was articled to Chambers and Thurlow, solicitors. In 1844 he paid a visit to New Zealand and served as a volunteer against the Maoris. Returning to Australia he was admitted to practise as an attorney and solicitor in 1847, and was taken into partnership by Mr Thurlow. In 1850, with a partner, he chartered a vessel and took supplies to California, and in June 1851 was still at San Francisco. He returned to Australia and in 1853 was a successful digger at Bendigo. He was practising as a solicitor at Melbourne in 1854, and showed much sympathy for the diggers at the time of the Eureka rebellion in December 1854. The mayor of Melbourne, J. T. Smith (q.v.), had called a meeting at the town hall to concert measures for keeping law and order. Grant and Dr J. H. Owens issued a placard asking the public not to go to the town hall, but to attend an open air meeting on the present site of St Paul's cathedral. About 5000 people attended. Grant was one of the speakers and a committee was appointed to interview the governor. At the trial of the Ballarat miners Grant acted as their attorney without fee. In 1855 he was elected a member of the legislative council, and when responsible government was established a year later, was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Sandhurst. He did not stand at the 1859 election, but shortly afterwards was elected for Avoca and held this seat until his death. He joined the Heales (q.v.) ministry in February 1861 as vice-president of the board of land and works and commissioner of public works, and resigned with Heales in November. He was commissioner for railways in the McCulloch (q.v.) ministry from June 1863 to September 1864 and then became president of the board of lands and works and commissioner of crown lands and survey from September 1864 to May 1868. In 1865 Grant succeeded in passing a land act which promised to be little more successful than previous acts, the conditions being too exacting for poor men. One clause, however, which had been meant to apply to goldfield areas, allowed selectors to take up 20 acres at a rental of two shillings an acre. Grant interpreted this very liberally and many applicants were allowed to hold four licences and thus farms of 80 acres were established. However, in May 1869, Grant brought in a new land bill which allowed the selection of up to 320 acres with conditions of residence, cultivation and improvement at a yearly payment of two shillings an acre, with liberal terms to convert into freehold. Grant was then holding the same position in the second McCulloch ministry as in the previous one, and went out of office in September 1869. The act, however, came into force on 1 February 1870 and, though amended in detail by later governments, was the basis of all subsequent land settlement in Victoria. Grant earned great popularity from it, and was afterwards presented with a testimonial of £3000 raised by public subscription. He again held the lands portfolio in the Duffy (q.v.) ministry from June 1871 to June 1872, was minister of justice in the first Berry (q.v.) ministry for a few weeks in 1875, held the same position in the second Berry ministry from May 1877 to March 1880, and was chief secretary and minister of public instruction in the O'Loghlen (q.v.) ministry from July 1881 to March 1883. He was able to do valuable work at the education department by insisting on the importance of merit in considering promotions. He had a stroke of paralysis in November 1884 and died on 1 April 1885, leaving a widow, a son and three daughters. A grant of £4000 was subsequently voted by parliament to his family.
Grant was of a genial nature and was personally liked. He was not a great orator, but at his best had a clear grasp of questions which commanded attention. He was also a thorough and hard-working administrator. His land act cleared up what seemed to be an almost hopeless position, and had great influence in the development of Victoria.
The Argus and The Age, Melbourne, 2 April 1885; The Leader, 4 April 1885; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria; Victoria: the First Century.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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