History of West Australia/James Shaw

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JAMES SHAW, J.P.

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JAMES SHAW, J.P.

POPULARITY is an end for which many strive, but which few attain. This much-envied and far-off sphere is solidly possessed by heroes and demigods whose achievements have drawn to each possessor the harmonious chords of universal affection. The results of effort must be immortally great to elicit this feeling of respect. Seldom has one huge stroke given it birth; it is rather the offspring of an increasing series of felicitous results culminating in a maximum point.

The sudden transference of one who is obscure to this cherished niche in history may cause him to so glory in his new-found greatness that his popularity will diminish, and he will he coldly viewed except for that one brilliant ray of human sunshine. But there are men of quiet deeds and homely goodwill, unselfish spirit, and constant personal sacrifice, who unconsciously rise in glorified gradations to the apex of their country's affection. Then their sunshine is a long day, lasting throughout that generation, and, mayhap, to others. And when their deeds are in the country's service their greatness may extend to centuries. No mere error in judgment, no single false step, shall dim the eyes of centuries to come, and man's worth shall be appraised on the basis of its specific value to contemporary civilisation.

Permanent popularity is not to be obtained by conscious effort, by insidious and mathematically regulated deportment. It is a spontaneous afflatus, a subtle inherent force, which must be obeyed. The kindness that is carefully thought out, and administered according to definite principles, loses in effect. It often grates upon the heart-strings, and is denied the reward of true affection. Popularity is best gained by those thousand unremembered acts that Wordsworth spoke of. The responsive chord of goodwill is only struck by spontaneity.

Perhaps no better example of popularity won by quiet deeds, disinterested charity, and unselfish goodwill, could be found in Australia to-day than that supplied in the career of James Shaw, J.P. In the sister colony of South Australia Mr. Shaw achieved popularity by his charitable works, and when force of circumstances brought him to Western Australia, no amount of false report, insidious detraction, or personal misfortune, could possibly diminish or deny the human flame of kindness which shed its rays over all he met. His popularity is not that of great writers or renowned statesmen, of whom Carlyle says it is difficult to believe when meeting them daily that they are made of better clay than ourselves; his popularity is that of Hugo's bishop.

James Shaw was born at Belfast, Ireland, in 1846, in which nursery of scientific men his father, Hugh Shaw, was an engineer. Even in those days Belfast was a thriving commercial town, and sought to rival the Clyde in engineering skill. Under such happy conditions James spent his boyhood. The sanguine period of youth instilled in him that fondness for daring and adventure so characteristic of Britain's children, and he determined to leave his father's home and seek a fortune in Australia. When but eighteen years old, in 1864, he left the old country, and sailed to Auckland, New Zealand. Eager to win his reward, he opened in business as a contractor. It is said that foresight, level-headedness, and a power to calculate to a mathematical nicety the pros and cons, are indispensable to a contractor. We might go further, and extend the same connotations to the whole sphere of successful speculation in commerce or mining; but iron rule and stubborn law meet occasionally with an exception, and though the sage and world-wise men reserve success to furrow-marked brains, the youthful optimism and enterprise often wrest prizes out of their hands. In New Zealand Mr. Shaw soon obtained a large business connection, and monuments of his handiwork and skill adorn the island towns. From contract to contract he went in accumulating successes, until the time came when the noble Maori sought to throw off the yoke of European oppression. Their lands—as great and lordly as themselves—had been theirs for centuries, and to regain them they, with sinister fierceness, occasionally visited the might of their arm on the white population. These frays became so numerous that retaliation was imperative. For successive years bloodshed was general, and many doughty deeds were done by white and black. Mr. Shaw went forth into the thickest of the fight, and did good service. In dangerous positions enough, he came through them unscathed, and his pluck and soldierly qualities were rewarded by a service medal. In 1866 the war was brought to a close.

For four subsequent years Mr. Shaw engaged in business in New Zealand, whereupon, in 1871, he took up his abode in Adelaide. There those excellent qualities which have since made him so popular were widely manifested. Adelaide was a thriving town, but a greater growth was soon to come. The increased development of the land resources of South Australia enhanced the importance of the capital. City land rose in value, and new and ornate buildings were erected on every side. Mr. Shaw launched out into large building contracts, and for some years his interests were immense, and he was one of the chief employers of labour in that colony. Many are the stories told in Adelaide of his munificence during these years. If one of the workmen accidentally met his death while in his employ, the family was well provided for by Mr. Shaw. Among the buildings he erected were the Houses of Parliament, than which no finer are to be found in Australia, new Government offices, Government workshops, large Bank buildings, the Australian Mutual Life Insurance buildings, and many others. These are the handsomest structures in the handsome city of Adelaide, and were carried out so carefully, and with such satisfaction, that the Belfast lad may well have been satisfied with his success. He had offers from different colonies to negotiate important works, but he had become so closely associated with the growth and aspirations of Adelaide that he did not care to leave that pretty city. During the years that these and other contracts were being negotiated Mr. Shaw attained popularity, not only among his workmen and their relatives, but throughout the city, and he was esteemed as one of the best loved men there. The first symbol of his popularity was denoted in his election to the City Council. Never listlessly entering any sphere, his great energy and disinterestedness were soon shown, and he devoted considerable time that he could ill spare to civic affairs. That best-drained, cleanest Australian city owes much of her glory to him. Throughout the thirteen years that he was a member of the Council, he was so zealous, and sincere, and charitable that his name became almost a household word. His chief characteristics are charity, solid common sense, intuition, and never-tiring energy. After rising to the dignity of an Alderman of Adelaide, in 1889 he was, with much acclamation, placed in the Mayoral chair. The manifold duties devolving on this position were performed by him to the satisfaction of all, and his hospitality in civic functions and liberality to the poor of the city won the most enviable admiration. His previous popularity was as nothing to what he now attained, and the genial springs of his nature circulated throughout the municipality. By his instrumentality, large departures were made by the Adelaide City Council, but, unfortunately, his constant thoughtful labour resulted in the breaking down of health. He left the colony for the New Zealand sulphur springs, and the regrets at his departure and ill-health, and the repeatedly expressed hopes for his speedy return, must have stirred his responsive nature, and thrilled him with that most delightful of all sensations—the consciousness of brotherhood, and public regard and love.

After a somewhat lengthened sojourn in New Zealand, Mr. Shaw returned to Adelaide, and again associated himself with her people. Soon, however, tidings reached him of the famous gold discoveries in Western Australia. Recent contracts had not been so remunerative as earlier ones, and the contagious germs of gold fever seized upon him until he decided to visit the West, and personally inspect the fields. In 1893 he left Adelaide, and arriving in this colony set out on his journey into the deserts. This was then no light undertaking, for the railway terminus was at Northam, from which the subsequent hundreds of miles had to be laboriously travelled in traps, on camels, on horses, or on foot. A few friends accompanied Mr. Shaw through the lonely bush, over the dreary deserts, for weary mile after weary mile. For days and days they proceeded in a trap, drawn by six horses, under a torrid, roasting sun, and at the end of nine days they reached Coolgardie. This mining camp, for there was no town there then, did not present the advantages to the tired travellers that it now possesses. Their long journey had been a serious strain on the body, but even yet their hardships were not at an end. Activity, and excitement, and dust, were the most notable features of Coolgardie, and day by day strangers were thronging into the locality. In order the better to understand the possibilities of the fields, Mr. Shaw made a thorough examination of the different mines, and, buoyed up with hope, invested considerable capital in them. Happily they were lucrative claims, and none will envy Mr. Shaw the wealth he has gained in them. From the first day he arrived in Coolgardie, he evinced a warm and glowing interest in her future. Quietly, and without ostentation, he began to make his influence felt, and supported and encouraged all movements which tended to her advancement. The residents viewed with pleasure this interest on his part, and particularly when he rendered assistance to the Progress Committee, a body which upheld the rights and claims of Coolgardie, and sought to establish some system in the camp. At that time Bayley Street was an augean stable, and the death-rate in the population was enormous. 8tumps hid beneath the dust of the principal thoroughfares, and the teamsters and camel trains camped almost in the heart of the centre. Near the Victoria Hotel the excrement was six inches and more in depth, and the place sadly needed some experienced governing hand. Mr. Shaw had gained so valuable an insight into municipal government in Adelaide, and so well knew of the advantages of cleanliness, he infused much spirit into the Progress Committee, which now strenuously advocated and petitioned the Government that a municipality be proclaimed. This, largely through the weight and influence of Mr. Shaw's advocacy, was finally granted. But rather than wait until the municipality could be formed, he had gratuitously and munificently caused many of the chief nuisances to be removed at his own expense, and had much other invaluable and necessary work done. He was elected among the first councillors, and received the greatly deserved honour of election to the pioneership of the Coolgardie mayoral office. No more suitable and harder working mayor could have been found. Day and night, for many months, did Mr. Shaw devote to the improvement of the town, and all credit him with the glory of the present advanced condition of Coolgardie. He allowed even his private affairs to remain in the background, so that he could more thoroughly serve the growing centre. Subsequent generations at Coolgardie will have good cause to thank him, by whose instrumentality her ably-engineered streets were planned. Though the Government officials actually and directly did the surveying, great pressure was exerted on them by the mayor to make them conform to his ideas. He remained in office for seventeen months, when he felt himself bound to retire—in November, 1895.

His life on the goldfields was one continual web of worry and work. His energies became exhausted in watching closely the fluctuations of investments, in managing mines, and last and chiefly in taking active part in any new cause for the advancement of rising goldfields towns. Kalgoorlie was fast growing in importance, and his advice was eagerly sought on many points of importance to that centre, and as eagerly given, and he rendered yeoman service in placing that town under municipal law. Finally, in the summer of 1895-6, his health again compelled him to go to New Zealand. Banquets were given to him prior to his departure, and were attended by all the leading goldfields people. The most notable was that held on the night before he left Coolgardie, when the Premier (Sir John Forrest) attended. For whole-souledness, enthusiasm, and all-embracing fellowship and verve, perhaps none of the many celebrations held on the goldfields equals this one. Mr. Shaw made his trip, and returned to Coolgardie again renewed in health, and took up the thread of his busy and altruistic life.

Mr. Shaw was one of the owners of the famous Londonderry Mine, floated in London for £700,000. He has large interests in the Bayley's South Extended, Oroya, Ivanhoe, Lake View, Mount Charlotte, Golden Age, and Crusoe Companies.

Of a versatile and catholic frame of mind, his love for sport is keen and great. He was president of the first Coolgardie Cricket and Football Club, and a patron of the Cycling Club. .He supports them by his presence as well as by his purse, and waxes enthusiastic on these manly pastimes. In a different stratum, he has been vice-president of the Chamber of Mines from its earliest constitution, and a member of the Stock Exchange. He is a Freemason of the eighteenth degree. Every new public departure and scheme at Coolgardie, if feasible and promotive of felicity, is readily and enthusiastically assisted by him. There his voice is the voice of authority, commanding and guiding the party who seek his chieftainship. He was asked to stand for the Upper House of Parliament in 1896, but declined in favour of Mr Howard Taylor, whose candidature he strongly supported.

Mr. Shaw is a traveller of no mean reputation. Every nook and corner of the North and South Islands of New Zealand has been visited by him, and he has traversed a wide circle of the sandy region of this colony, adding to his knowledge fresh points on chemical and geological formation. In all these places he is hailed as "Chief." He was married at Kyneton, Victoria, to Miss Shaw, daughter of John Shaw, of Brookville, Kyneton. Last year his eldest son died of typhoid fever at Coolgardie. His death, in the flower of manhood, greatly affected his sorrowing father. Mr. Shaw's other son is a medical student at the Melbourne University.

All the noble, commendable utilitarian principles of Mr. Shaw have gained him the affection of his country, for goodness of heart and mind compel applause. The fluid-like element of human opinion adjudges the benefactor, and raises him to a pedestal. No one in Western Australia finds a closer and firmer resting-place in the hearts of the people than "Chief" Shaw. In him is the essence of true charity, and hundreds of needy people have cause to revere his name. The struggling prospector, the poverty- stricken unemployed, the anxious business man who cannot pay his way—each has come within the range of his benefactions. Silently and secretly, with no pharisaic crying from the housetops, he has freely given in Western Australia many hundreds of pounds, and raised the downcast from the slough of despond. The figure of the "Chief" is loved in Adelaide and Coolgardie—indeed, wherever he has been.