Dickson, James Robert (DNB01)

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DICKSON, Sir JAMES ROBERT (1832-1901), Australian statesman, was born at Plymouth, England, on 30 Nov. 1832, but went to live at Glasgow when quite young and was educated at the high school in that city, afterwards entering, while still a youth, the City of Glasgow Bank, where he served for some years. In 1854 he emigrated to Victoria, and entered the Bank of Australasia, which he left about 1859 to go to New South Wales and join some relatives in business. Within two or three years, in 1862, he went to Queensland and set up as an auctioneer, forming connections at the same time with building society work and banking enterprise ; he was a promoter, and for some time a director, of the Royal Bank of Queensland.

Dickson entered political life in 1872, when he was elected to the Queensland House of Assembly for Enoggera. On 10 May 1876 he became minister of works towards the close of Arthur Macalister's [q.v.] second administration ; and on 5 June, when the government went out, became treasurer under George Thorn, continuing under the Hon. John Douglas, when the ministry was reconstructed, till 21 Jan. 1879. In 1882 he visited England. On 31 Dec. 1883 he became treasurer in Sir Samuel Walker Griffith's first administration. He was a member of the federal council which met at Hobart in 1886, and acted as premier during Griffith's absence in England for the celebration of the jubilee ; on 17 Aug. 1887 he resigned office owing to a serious difference of opinion with his colleagues as to the imposition of a land tax to arrest the fall of the revenue from land. He felt so strongly on the subject that he also resigned his seat and gave his constituency the chance of expressing their opinion ; he was re-elected after an exciting contest. At the general election of 1888, however, he was defeated at Toombul, a constituency carved out of his old one. For the next year he devoted himself to his business, but retiring from it in 1889 went for a long stay in Europe, residing at times, besides the United Kingdom, in France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Greece. He did not return to Queensland till early in 1892.

On his return Dickson at once took up the question of introducing coloured labour on the Queensland sugar estates. In April 1892 he brought the question before the electorate by offering himself as candidate in the by-election for Bulimba. He was successful and was re-elected at the general elections of 1893 and 1896. In this last year he represented Queensland in the federal council of Australia at Hobart. In February 1897 he was made secretary for railways by Nelson. In March 1898 he became minister for home affairs, and almost immediately proceeded to Hobart to represent Queensland at the postal conference ; the change of premier, when Thomas Joseph Byrnes [q. v. Suppl.] succeeded Sir Hugh Muir Nelson, did not affect his position. On 1 Oct. 1898, on Byrnes's death, he became premier, taking office as chief secretary and vice-president of the executive council. That which will chiefly mark his ministry is the boldness with which he threw himself into the contest for securing an Australian commonwealth ; with the majority of the assembly against him on the principle, he faced the risk of defeat, and carried the measure authorising the submission of the question to a vote of the people. He was justified by obtaining a majority in its favour. On 29 Nov. 1899, owing to an adverse vote, he resigned the position of premier ; but on 7 Dec., when the Hon. Robert Philip became premier, he was reappointed chief secretary and vice-president of the executive council.

When, at the beginning of 1900, the home government invited delegates from Australia to come to London and discuss the project for the Australian commonwealth, Dickson came over to represent Queensland ; on his return he was selected as minister of defence for the first government of United Australia. He was the only minister in the new cabinet who had not been born in Australia. He came to Sydney at the close of 1900 to be present at the celebrations connected with the inauguration of the new commonwealth, and seemed in good health through the first two days, when he was taken ill. He died at the Australian Club, Macquarie Street, Sydney, on 10 Jan. 1901. His body was taken 'to Brisbane, where a public funeral was accorded to him. He was buried in Nundah cemetery. He was made C.M.G. in 1897, K.C.M.G. on 1 Jan. 1901, and honorary D.C.L. of Oxford in 1900.

Dickson was cultured, courteous, and considerate to others, yet he was hardly popular, though genuinely respected in his colony. His strong action as regards the federation movement added considerably to his reputation.

Dickson was twice married, and left one son and four daughters.

[Pugh's Queensland Almanac, 1900; Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Jan. 1901 ; Brisbane Courier, 10 and 11 Jan. 1901 ; Telegraph (Brisbane), 10 Jan. 1901.]

C. A. H.