History of West Australia/John Maxwell Ferguson

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AS society progresses, the prejudices which for generations existed among certain classes concerning trade are rapidly and wisely being eradicated. It is not so very long ago that the scion of aristocracy, with nothing but the achievements of long departed ancestors to commend him, looked supremely down on business pursuits and business men who won their spurs by their own deeds. But things are changing. The lords and the dukes are now engaging in business, and "soil" their hands with trade. They mix with business men and find them, often, of a sterner calibre than themselves.

John Maxwell Ferguson HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

The successful business men devote themselves to the mystic problems of finance in the heyday of life. To all of us the truth of the saying "money rules the world" is wickedly brought home at some time or other, and happy is he who realises the truth in time. In the olden days when Dampier and his contemporaries lived, the hardy mariners roved the seas and wrested wealth from the Spaniards in bloody warfare, sinking galleons and devastating towns. But when the buccaneers left us, mariners had to accumulate wealth by the more prosaic means of trade or barter. Thus by degrees was born a class of men with the adventurous spirit of the old sea-kings and the business instincts of the merchant, by whose enterprise the bounds of British commerce have been extended to the utmost ends of the earth. In new countries these sailor-merchants seem more numerous than in the older centres of civilisation, and Western Australia, like her Eastern sisters, owes much of her progress to them. In the commercial world of the colony the firm of J. M. Ferguson occupies one of the honoured positions, both for its enterprise and the probity of its principal. Mr. Ferguson's career is one of interest, and his varied enterprises, both by sea and land, have been attended with such success that he is now end of the colony's representative men.

Although born in Dundee in 1841, he came to Western Australia so early in life that he is, to all intents and purposes, a native. His father, a medical man of some prominence in Scotland, saw in the new colony beyond the seas a scope for his abilities denied him in the crowded ranks of his profession at home, and in the year 1842 came with his wife and child to the land of the Black Swan. Dr. Ferguson conducted a private practice in the colony for four years, and then received an appointment as Colonial Surgeon under the Imperial Government, a position he retained up to his death. The son was educated in the colony until he was ten years of age, and was then sent to the Dundee High School to receive instruction in the higher branches of learning not included in the limited curriculum of colonial schools. But the love of the sea, inherited from his ancestors, was fanned into life by the voyage from Australia, and burnt so fiercely that at the age of fifteen he was endowed with all the dignities of a midshipman on board an East Indiaman, and launched out on a sailor's life. For several years he sailed to divers countries, gradually working his way in his profession from the position of inferior to that of captain. Thus having attained the highest position obtainable in the mercantile marine, he turned his eyes to the land of his boyhood, and in 1867 landed in Fremantle. Although only twenty-six years of age, he received the command of a China trader, and made voyages to Singapore and other Eastern ports with the colony's lucrative product—sandalwood, returning with tea and other commodities. As the years rolled on things prospered so well with the sailor that he eventually owned the vessel he commanded. In the profitable trade in which he was engaged Captain Ferguson soon accumulated a competency, with which he could have retired. His energetic nature, however, would not allow him to pass his days in idleness, so after leaving the sea he entered into partnership with Mr. Mummie, the firm being known as Ferguson and Mummie. In 1876 they established the now well-known Swan Brewery, which they carried on successfully until 1883. Then came a favourable opportunity of parting with the business, which in that year was floated into a company. Mr. Ferguson's next venture was with Mr. W. D. Moore, whom he joined in partnership and started as general merchant in Fremantle. In 1889 he launched out on his own account as a merchant, and quickly acquired a large and lucrative business. His knowledge of shipping stood him in good stead, and enabled him, in addition to his own private affairs, to satisfactorily conduct as shipping agent the shipping business of the Jarrahdale Timber Company. Mr. Ferguson chartered several ships, and had others consigned to his order, all of which were loaded with valuable goods for his business. He has become the representative of so many interests that he has now hardly a moment to spare, He is so largely interested in the hardware trade that he contemplates extending this branch of the business, and is importing iron, Baltic pine, and Oregon. He has established large sawmills in Perth.

Mr. Ferguson is, as will be seen by his biography, a prosperous business man. In all his ventures he has been successful, not by mere luck, but by personally managing his business. A kindly man, with a pleasant cheerful manner, he is naturally held in high esteem by all whose privilege it is to know him. Just in his dealings, considerate in his actions, and charitable in his prosperity, he stands forth proudly an honest man.