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Hutchison, James (1859–1909)

by Suzanne Edgar

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James Hutchison (1859-1909), by T. Humphrey & Co

James Hutchison (1859-1909), by T. Humphrey & Co

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23367040

James Hutchison (1859-1909), printer and politician, was born on 20 April 1859 at Aberdeen, Scotland, son of James Hutchison, weaver, and his wife Isabella, née Smith. After primary education at Dr Bell's school he worked in a carpet factory, a grocery and a bakery. He became an apprentice compositor on the Daily Free Press and attended the mechanics' institute. Later he worked on the Aberdeen Weekly Journal before following his workmate J. A. McPherson to South Australia in 1884.

They joined the South Australian Typographical Society and found work on the South Australian Register. On 28 October 1886 Hutchison married Mary Jane Trebilcock. Two years later McPherson and Hutchison were in a strike at the Register over its opposition to union labour. Both were sacked. In 1889, with two other dismissed compositors, Hutchison established the trades press, Hutchison, Craker & Smith. Early next year H. Congreve Evans and Alfred T. Chandler joined them as editors to publish a satirical paper, Quiz; it flourished and soon incorporated its rival the Lantern.

Hutchison supported the growing United Labor Party as an office-holder of the East Adelaide local committee and in public speaking in the Botanic Park and at the Adelaide Democratic Club. In 1896 he was president of both the club and of the U.L.P. In January 1898, following McPherson's death, Hutchison won a by-election for his friend's seat of East Adelaide in the House of Assembly. Next year he was re-elected. He was a member of the State Children's Council in 1898-1902 and sat on the 1899-1901 royal commission into the civil service.

Hutchison was a lively handsome man and his maiden speech was fervent and rhetorical. He supported Federation and White Australia, citing Queensland as a 'breeding-ground of piebalds'. He called for law reform; somewhat presciently, he described those 'who flocked around the rotten carcase of an insolvency' as wielders of a 'two-edged sword of craft and oppression'.

Hutchison attracted attention by his opposition to the electric tramways bill of 1901. Flouting the recommendations of a 1900 select committee, a private company was to take over many of Adelaide's tramways and convert them to electricity. In September Hutchison presented a petition of protest from the Public Tramways League. A 'firebrand' who lived on his nerves, he sustained pressure on the bill's supporters in and out of parliament and marshalled comprehensive evidence from interstate and overseas examples. But his opponents baited him into making rash claims about them in the press. Hutchison specifically attacked W. Charles Tucker, a parliamentary supporter of the company, and C. G. Gurr. The bill was passed in December, with important amendments secured by Hutchison, but Gurr doggedly pursued their differences in the press and Tucker sued for libel. Hutchison lost the case. Although only fined £50, he had to pay £762 in costs; by 2 April 1902 he was insolvent. On 3 May, following a redistribution of electorates, he lost his parliamentary seat. Having left Quiz in 1901, he now edited the Labor weekly, the Herald.

In 1903 he won the Federal seat of Hindmarsh and was unopposed in 1906. Having always been an enthusiastic volunteer soldier, from November 1908 till June 1909 Hutchison was a popular honorary minister representing the minister for defence in the House of Representatives. His death in Melbourne on 6 December 1909 from 'inflammation of the kidneys and gall bladder', was sudden and shocking; he left a widow and six children. His body was returned to Adelaide for a Presbyterian burial in West Terrace cemetery. He died in poverty.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • Australasian Typographical Journal, Feb 1898
  • Observer (Adelaide), 5 Feb 1898
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15, 16, 19, 27, 30 Nov, 18 Dec 1901, 12, 14, 15 Mar 1902, 7, 8, Dec 1909
  • Herald (Adelaide), 7 Dec 1901, 11 Dec 1909
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Dec 1909
  • GRG 66/5/6680 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Hutchison, James (1859–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hutchison-james-6778/text11723, accessed 24 November 2017.

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