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James George Charles Hannam (1895–1979)

by Richard Morris

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James George Charles Hannam (1895-1979), waterside worker, trade unionist and cyclist, was born on 26 October 1895 at Balmain, Sydney, third child of native-born parents James Hannam, butcher, and his wife Elizabeth Maria, née Hartland. A blacksmith by trade, young Jim enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 29 August 1914; he was then 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall, with grey eyes, fair hair and an athletic build.

Posted as a driver to the 1st Divisional Ammunition Column, he embarked for the Middle East in October 1914. In Egypt, in September next year, he was sentenced to fifty-six days field punishment for leaving his picquet without orders. He was sent to France in April 1916 and was briefly attached to the 101st Battery, Australian Field Artillery, before returning to the 1st D.A.C. in October. In 1916-19 he was court-martialled on three occasions for absence without leave and related offences; he was sentenced twice to field punishment and once to a year's hard labour, most of which was suspended. He was discharged from the A.I.F. on 23 December 1919 in Sydney.

Hannam returned to France as a professional cyclist and came back to Australia in 1924 on contract as 'Jacques Nagel, the Flying Frenchman'. In the parsonage of the Congregational Church, Richmond, Melbourne, on 2 September 1925 he married 19-year-old Doris Ada Louisa Riley. She was the daughter of Tom Riley, secretary and a founder of the Port Phillip Stevedores' Club, one of two branches of the Waterside Workers' Federation on the Melbourne waterfront. Jim joined his father-in-law on the docks and picked up casual work as a wharf labourer: 'We had our own foremen that we used to follow and we knew how many men they were going to take. It was open pick-up. We'd all stand around in the yard and the boss would come on the platform and he'd call your names out, or just point to you'.

Continuing his sporting career under the assumed name of 'Jim Nagel', Hannam regularly competed in cycling events in Victoria. On 1 February 1926, described as the 'champion of France', he was beaten at Geelong by H. K. Smith, holder of the Australian road championship. At the Exhibition oval, Carlton, on the 27th 'the French-Australian J. Nagel' won the ¾ mile (1.2 km) handicap and the five-mile (8 km) scratch for professionals.

In 1928 Hannam was caught up in waterfront industrial troubles which flared with particular violence after the Bruce-Page government's legislation encouraged non-union labour to work on the wharves. On 2 November at Princes Pier, Port Melbourne, police fired into a crowd of W.W.F. strikers who were bent on driving off 'volunteer' strike-breakers. One waterside worker subsequently died from gunshot wounds, and three, including Hannam, were wounded. Having recovered from the bullet-wound to his arm, Hannam attended the wharf-labourers' pickups for casual work throughout the Depression. When, as often as not, work was not available, he filled in otherwise idle hours training for cycle races. Remaining on the waterfront, he finally transferred at the age of 69 to the reserve 'B' Register in 1964. He died on 9 April 1979 in South Melbourne and was cremated; his daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Lowenstein and T. Hills, Under the Hook (Melb, 1982)
  • Maritime Worker, 29 May 1979
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Feb, 1 Mar 1926, 3 Nov 1928
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Nov 1928.

Citation details

Richard Morris, 'Hannam, James George Charles (1895–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Nagel, Jacques
  • Nagel, Jim

26 October, 1895
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


9 April, 1979 (aged 83)
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia