PATTERSON, Sir James Brown (1833-1895)


PATTERSON, Sir James Brown (1833-1895)
premier of Victoria
youngest son of a district road-inspector at Alnwick, Cumberland, England, was born on 18 November 1833. He was educated at Alnwick and in 1852 emigrated to Victoria. He worked on the goldfields and then took up farming for about four years. Subsequently he opened a cattle and slaughtering business at Chewton, near Castlemaine, took an interest in municipal affairs and became mayor of Chewton. In December 1870 he was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Castlemaine, and held the seat until his death nearly a quarter of a century later. He was minister of public works in the first Berry (q.v.) ministry from August to October 1875, held the same position in Berry's second ministry from May 1877 to March 1880, and was minister of railways in his third ministry from August 1880 to July 1881. Patterson was a leading member in these cabinets, counselled moderation in the disputes with the legislative council, and as minister of railways endeavoured to check political influence being used in connexion with railway extensions. He had much to do with the bringing together of Service (q.v.) and Berry which resulted in their coalition government. He visited England, and returning in 1885 sat for a time in opposition to the Gillies (q.v.) government. He, however, joined this ministry in April 1889 as commissioner of trade and customs, and later for short periods was postmaster-general and vice-president of the board of land and works and commissioner of public works. He took a strong stand for law and order during the maritime strike in 1890. He became premier in January 1893 and a few weeks later the colony was plunged into the greatest financial crisis it had ever known. H. G. Turner (q.v.), who had been a bank manager himself, is very severe in his History of the Colony of Victoria on Patterson and his treasurer G. D. Carter for proclaiming a moratorium in the shape of a bank holiday from 1 to 5 May. Carter was admittedly not a strong man, but it was asking a great deal from the premier that he should at once produce a remedy for a state of things arising from gross over trading and reckless speculation. Patterson endeavoured to increase the production of primary products by placing people on the land and attempted many government economics. These were largely responsible for the defeat of his government at the 1894 election. When the Turner (q.v.) ministry came in Patterson led the opposition, and as Turner also began to economize Patterson steadily regained his position as a leader. He was by now the father of the house and the most picturesque figure in it. Though apparently in vigorous health he contracted influenza, and died after a short illness on 30 October 1895. He married about 1857 Miss Walton, who predeceased him, and was survived by a daughter. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1894.
Though not an orator Patterson was an excellent debater with a gift for the telling phrase. An able and shrewd administrator, he took a leading place among the Victorian politicians of his time.
The Age and The Argus, Melbourne, 31 October 1895; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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