MUNRO, James (1832-1908)


MUNRO, James (1832-1908)
premier of Victoria
was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, on 7 January 1832, the son of Donald Munro and his wife, Georgina. He was educated at a village school, went to Edinburgh in 1848, and became a printer employed by Constable and Company. He emigrated to Melbourne in 1858 and after working for some years as a printer, in 1865 founded the Victorian Permanent Building Society of which he was manager for 17 years. In 1874 he was elected a member of the legislative assembly for North Melbourne, and held office from 7 August to 20 October 1875 as minister of public instruction in the first Berry (q.v.) ministry. In 1877 he was returned for Carlton and declined office in the second Berry ministry. In 1882 he founded the Federal Banking Company and was managing director for three years. He was leader of the opposition in 1886 when the Gillies (q.v.) ministry came into power, and in November 1890 became premier and treasurer. In 1887 he had founded the Real Estate Bank and had large interests in other companies. He was reputed in the "boom" year 1888 to have been a millionaire. He resigned as premier in February 1892 to become agent-general for Victoria in London and his ministry was merged in the Shiels (q.v.) ministry. As a result of the banking crisis in 1893 Munro was recalled to Melbourne. He found himself financially ruined and retired from public life. He died on 25 February 1908. He married in December 1853, Jane Macdonald, and had a family of four sons and three daughters.
Munro was an important figure over a long period. He took a great interest in the temperance movement and was president of the Victorian Alliance and the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society. He was a commissioner for several exhibitions and founded several financial companies, all of which came to failure except the first, the Victorian Permanent Building Society. He was discredited on this account, but was probably no worse than most other men of the period who allowed themselves to be borne along on a wave of optimism which eventually engulfed the whole community. He was a fluent and vigorous speaker and an energetic politician. He represented Victoria at the 1891 federal convention, but otherwise did not take a leading place in the movement.
Burke's Colonial Gentry, vol. II, p. 638; P . Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; The Argus, Melbourne, 26 February 1908; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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