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James Ernest Ogden (1868–1932)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James Ernest Ogden (1868-1932), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1920s

James Ernest Ogden (1868-1932), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24156401

James Ernest Ogden (1868-1932), miner, unionist and politician, was born on 8 March 1868 at Durdidwarrah, near Geelong, Victoria, fourth son of Robert Ogden, miner and farmer, and his wife Hannah, née Fenby. He was educated at Steiglitz State School until he was 14, training to be a schoolteacher, but after his father's death he wandered the country, working at various jobs including farm-hand, surveyor, drover, shearer, and miner on the Western Australian goldfields, ending up in 1896 on Tasmania's west-coast mining-fields where he worked as prospector and miner until 1906. On 10 February 1897 he married Emma Etta Colls at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Clifton Hill, Melbourne. Very early he revealed an outspokenness and firmness of views that were later to bring him political problems, but which at this stage of his career stood him in good stead as he worked to establish various trade unions; he became president of the Tasmanian branch of the Amalgamated Miners' Association. A Freemason, he belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Ogden was a prominent pioneer of the Tasmanian Labor Party, being at one time president of the Tasmanian Workers' Political League and a contributor to the Hobart Clipper as 'Coote' and also for the Daily Post. With such local work as membership of the Zeehan and Dundas Hospital Board, he had by 1906 become well-enough known to win the House of Assembly seat of Zeehan for Labor; he held Darwin from 1909. He became treasurer in the first Labor government of John Earle, which governed for a week in October 1909. When Earle returned to power in April 1914, Ogden was at his side as chief secretary and minister for mines and labour until April 1916.

He resigned his seat to successfully contest for Labor the Senate election of December 1922, holding his seat until his death. Like many early Tasmanian senators, Ogden believed Tasmania's parlous financial position demanded Commonwealth acknowledgment and support, as it had been brought about largely by 'the depredations of the larger and more selfish States'. In 1925 he supported the Bruce-Page government's navigation and immigration bills largely on the grounds that the militant Seamen's Union was harming the future of a State that depended on sea transport. This brought Ogden, a self-proclaimed opponent of 'the party spirit', into conflict with his party, and he was expelled by the Tasmanian branch in February 1926, an expulsion accepted reluctantly by the federal caucus. He sat as an Independent until re-elected in 1928 under the Nationalist banner, and became honorary minister and assistant minister for industry in the last eleven months of the Bruce-Page government.

An angular, frail figure with a large drooping moustache, Ogden was not robust, and his health deteriorated steadily in the early 1930s. He died in Hobart on 5 February 1932, the day before his former leader John Earle, who had also been expelled and vilified as a Labor 'rat'. Ogden's wife, a son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulletin, 10 Oct 1918
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 Feb 1932
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Feb 1932
  • Ogden papers (privately held).

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Ogden, James Ernest (1868–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 May 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012