James Dickson (Queensland politician)

Sir James Robert Dickson, KCMG FRGS (30 November 1832  10 January 1901) was an Australian politician and businessman, the 13th Premier of Queensland and a member of the first federal ministry.

Sir James Dickson
13th Premier of Queensland
In office
1 October 1898  1 December 1899
Preceded byThomas Joseph Byrnes
Succeeded byAnderson Dawson
Federal Minister for Defence
In office
1 January 1901  10 January 1901
Preceded byNone (new creation)
Succeeded byJohn Forrest
Treasurer of Queensland
In office
5 June 1876  21 January 1879
Preceded byWilliam Hemmant
Succeeded byThomas McIlwraith
In office
31 December 1883  17 August 1887
Preceded byJames Francis Garrick
Succeeded bySamuel Griffith
Member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly
for Enoggera
In office
28 November 1873  12 May 1888
Serving with Arthur Rutledge, John Bale, Robert Bulcock
Preceded byNew seat
Succeeded byJames Drake
Member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly
for Bulimba
In office
16 April 1892  10 January 1901
Preceded byJohn Francis Buckland
Succeeded byWalter Barnes
Personal details
Born(1832-11-30)30 November 1832
Plymouth, Devon, England, UK
Died10 January 1901(1901-01-10) (aged 68)
Sydney, Australia
Resting placeNundah Cemetery
Political partyProtectionist Party, Ministerialist
Spouse(s)Annie Ely, Mary MacKinlay
OccupationAuctioneer, Real estate agent

Early life

Dickson was born on 30 November 1832 in Plymouth, Devon, England. He was the only son of Mary Maria (née Palmer) and James Dickson. He was educated in Scotland at the High School of Glasgow, and subsequently worked as a junior clerk at the City of Glasgow Bank. Dickson arrived in Australia in 1854 during the Victorian gold rush. He initially worked for the Bank of Australasia and then for Rae, Dickson & Co., his cousin's merchant firm. He moved to the Colony of Queensland in 1862, working for an estate agent for a period and then establishing himself as an auctioneer and land agent. He built Toorak House, a villa overlooking the Brisbane River.[1]

Colonial politics

Dickson in 1883

Dickson was elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland for Enoggera in 1873. He was made Secretary for Public Works and Mines in 1876 under Arthur Macalister, and was Treasurer 1876–79. In the absence of Sir Samuel Griffith he was briefly Opposition Leader, and was Treasurer again 1883–87 after Griffith became Premier. He lost his seat in 1888 but was again elected for Bulimba in 1892, supporting the importation of labourers from the South Pacific to work on the Queensland canefields.[1][2]

In the so-called Continuous Ministry of the late 1890s, Dickson attained the positions of Secretary for Railways in 1897, Postmaster-General and Home Secretary 1898–99. In September 1898, after the death of Thomas Byrnes he was made Premier. The Continuous Ministry by this stage was falling apart, and Dickson had only a brief period in office before Anderson Dawson gained the support of the Legislative Assembly to become the leader of the world's first Labour Party government. The Ministerialists regrouped a week later to vote Dawson out of office. Dickson lacked support to become Premier again, and that position instead went to Robert Philp, in whose government Dickson was Chief Secretary.[1]

Federal politics and death

James Robert Dickson

Dickson was a leading supporter of federation in Queensland and was mainly responsible for winning a "yes" vote in the Queensland referendum on the proposed Constitution of Australia in 1900. As a result, Dickson was appointed Minister for Defence in the first federal ministry under Edmund Barton on 1 January 1901. He was intending to stand for election to the first Federal Parliament, but on 10 January he died after being taken ill at the Commonwealth's inaugural ceremonies in Sydney on 1 January. He was the first federal Minister to die in office.[1][2]

He was accorded a state funeral; it proceeded from Toorak, his residence at Hamilton, to the All Saints Anglican Church. After a short service it moved on to the Nundah Cemetery.[3]


James Dickson's grave at Brisbane's Nundah Cemetery.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in November 1891.[4] Only nine days before he died, Dickson was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the New Years Honours List 1 January 1901, in recognition of services in connection with the Federation of Australian Colonies and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia.[5] The federal electoral division of Dickson in Queensland, and the Canberra suburb of Dickson are named after him.


  1. Cuthbert, D. D. (1981). "Dickson, Sir James Robert (1832–1901)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 20 October 2007.
  2. Serle, Percival. "Dickson, Sir James Robert (1832–1901)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 20 October 2007.
  3. "PROPOSED STATE FUNERAL". The Brisbane Courier. 11 January 1901. p. 5. Retrieved 27 September 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  4. "Second Meeting, 23rd November, 1891. Election of Fellows". Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. New Series. 13: 731. 1891.
  5. "No. 27261". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1901. p. 1.
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