James Shaw, mayor of Coolgardie, Western Australia

James Shaw

Builder, Contractor, Mayor of Adelaide and Coolgardie, Miner, Councillor, Alderman, Investor and Speculator

Part II

As Mayor of Coolgardie he was instrumental in pushing for better representation of the goldfields in parliament for improvements in postal and telegraphic services and most of all a permanent water supply. When his term as Mayor was completed he was entertained by the new Mayor who had nothing but praise for all his efforts and successes. He wished him a pleasant journey to South Australia and New Zealand which he would visit in the hope of improving his health, which was on the decline again. Later he had a street in Coolgardie named after him.

On 6 December 1895 there was a very large attendance at the Stock Exchange, including Premier Sir John Forrest and a reporter of the Kalgoorlie Miner to farewell James Shaw. The proceedings were of a most enthusiastic nature, he wrote, clearly indicating the deep feelings of respect and affection entertained for Mr Shaw by the people of the town. Addresses were presented to the guest on behalf of the townspeople, the miners, the Afghan population and others and he was also made the recipient of many valuable presents. Shaw was presented with a bag of 400 sovereigns on behalf of the residents. Tagh Mahomet, who had previously worked in the north of South Australia, on behalf of the Afghan population, presented a testimonial and a handsome table cloth for Mrs Shaw. Not to be outdone the diggers of the field gave him 100 oz. of gold. There were also gifts for his son and daughter, including a beautiful gold bangle from the hotel staff. The Chief, as he was often referred to, was most enthusiastically honoured.

Shaw left for Perth in company with the Premier. At a public meeting during his stopover in Perth, the Chief, was entertained by the Premier and Benjamin Rounsevell. On 14 December 1895 Shaw left Perth for New Zealand. He would make several visits to that country to enjoy the hot springs at Whacka.

After a well-earned rest in New Zealand he arrived back in Albany in April 1896 just in time to watch the opening of the Great Boulder Battery on the Eastern Goldfields. His wife and children would arrive a little later from Adelaide. Being unable or unwilling to just take it easy James Shaw was soon back on the fields where, owing to his large investments, his personal attention was required.

It was reported on 11 May 1896 that Shaw and Mr Martin, of Messrs Lewis, Robinson, and Co., the well-known London financiers, are at present on a visit to Kalgoorlie. They will inspect the leading mines surrounding the town today, beginning with the Ivanhoe early this morning. Tomorrow they will proceed to Kanowna, and from there they will inspect the General Gordon, Bardoc, Black Flag, and Menzies mines. The 90-Mile and other places will also be visited. Mr Shaw has been specially requested to make the tour with Mr Martin, who will shortly proceed to London. In conversation with a representative of the Kalgoorlie Miner last evening Mr Shaw said he was greatly pleased to observe the wonderful progress Kalgoorlie had made during the past few months. He could not speak definitely as to his movements in the future, but he expected to spend a good deal of his time in the town. Mrs Shaw will be coming to the colony in a few weeks, and it is her intention to stay for a short time, at any rate, in Kalgoorlie.

The reporter went on to say that 'A special meeting of the Kalgoorlie Municipal Council is to be held this evening, and Mr Shaw has consented to attend to confer with councillors on various matters. He is staying at the Great Boulder Hotel, and on Saturday and yesterday he received visits from a large number of old friends, who extended a hearty welcome to the popular veteran. Mr Shaw holds large interests in the Kalgoorlie district, and the probability of his settling down here must be regarded with the utmost satisfaction. The Chief is a hard worker and a born organiser in public matters, and he will do all in his power to advance the interests of the Johannesburg of the West'.

During this evening's meeting the chairman said they had met to welcome an important visitor to Kalgoorlie in the person of Mr James Shaw, the first Mayor of Coolgardie. The Kalgoorlie Council had been greatly benefited from time to time by Mr Shaw, who had readily given them the assistance of his good advice. Their guest was making a tour of the fields, and he hoped it would be for the benefit of the fields and himself. He was pleased also to welcome Cr Howard Taylor, of Coolgardie, who was the oldest councillor on the fields. He would ask them to drink long life and prosperity to Mr Shaw.

After the toast had been honoured, Crs Lee and Roberts endorsed the remarks of the chairman, the former stating that he had known Mr Shaw for many years in South Australia, where he had done splendid work as a representative of the ratepayers of Adelaide. Mr Shaw, who was well received, thanked the Council of Kalgoorlie for the courtesy extended to him. He referred to the difficulties which, with the assistance of a good council, he had been able to overcome in forming the Coolgardie Council. He had watched the progress of the town and district of Kalgoorlie with keen pleasure.

He hoped the council would abstain from borrowing, for it was a bad thing for a municipality when money had to be paid away for interest that should be expended in improving the town. (Hear, hear.) He was sure that if they approached the Government in a reasonable way they would receive any assistance they required, and he hoped that the council would conclude its first financial year with a credit balance. With the wonderful strides the town was making, the re-assessment at the end of the present year would bring in a very large increase of revenue.

While on the goldfields Shaw was asked several times to contest the Legislative Council election. He declined but everyone expected him to contest a seat in the House of Assembly. After completing his inspection tours and other business he was roaming the Adelaide Hills in September visiting the goldfields around Mount Pleasant. In October 1896 it was reported that Shaw had consented to be a candidate for North Coolgardie in the WA Legislative Assembly at the next election. While in Auckland, Shaw had requested to be nominated as a candidate for North Coolgardie.

A Menzies newspaper correspondent wrote, 'Several leading residents pledged themselves a year ago to support Mr Shaw for Parliament. Amongst those who promised to support him was Mr Gregory, Mayor of Menzies, who told his friends that if Mr Shaw announced his candidature he (Mr Gregory) would support him. It is considered probable therefore, that Mr Shaw's declaration will lead to Mr Gregory's retirement. Mr Shaw is very popular here with all classes, and stands an excellent chance of being elected'. Nothing came of it as Shaw was not successful.

After an absence of seven months Shaw returned to Coolgardie in July 1897. The town had grown remarkably. Population had increased to well over 10,000, supporting more than 20 hotels, three breweries and seven newspapers. Unfortunately the number of graves in the cemetery had also increased to more than a thousand.

In October he was approached to allow himself to be nominated again for Mayor of Adelaide. He declined in consequence of private engagements. However in December he contested the seat of East Adelaide for the SA House of Assembly which had become available after the death of Mr Pherson. Nothing came of this either as he was beaten to it by James Hutchison and Joseph Salmon.

In 1900 he was back in South Australia and involved with the Mount Grainger Gold Mine near Oodla Wirra. In June he sent a handsome gold medal made from the first gold taken from the mine to Major General Baden Powell. At the Federal Election of December 1903 Shaw was once again unsuccesful. It did not stop him though trying again. While on yet another inspection of the Western Australian goldfields in December 1906 he was present at a Coolgardie election meeting which he greatly enjoyed. Six out of eleven ex-mayors were present and many complementary references were made to his good work in Coolgardie in the early days. Apart from mining, he was still interested in the Kalgoorlie Brewing and Ice Company as well as other investments in the district.


Mount Grainger Mine. Not the golden hole Shaw had hoped for.

Shaw and his wife now spent most of their winters at their beautiful home in North Adelaide and the summers in New Zealand with their daughter and grandchildren. Their son James was a prominent staff member at the Mount Morgan Copper and Gold Mine in Queensland.

In January 1907 Shaw was nominated for the seat of North Adelaide as an anti-labour candidate, caused by the death of Mr Sellar. It was reported that he had made a mint of money in Western Australian gold speculations but still showed liberality towards the poor which had been one of his dominant virtues. Having years ago built the new House of Parliament he was now trying 'to get a seat in the House that Jim built'. Once again he was unsuccessful. Politics did not seem to agree with him.

However in April 1908 he was successful in being elected President of the Norwood Football Club. Although still very much interested in all kinds of sport his health was troubling him. Finally he decided, after recommendations of his doctor, that a trip to England would be a good thing. In July 1910 he and his wife passed through Fremantle on their way to London.

It proved to be his last journey. While in England he died there on 15 September, aged 64. When news of his death was received at Coolgardie, council meetings were adjourned for two weeks as a mark of respect to the ‘father’ of the Coolgardie municipality. The Mayor's action was approved and a letter expressing the council and Coolgardie's sympathy and respect was forwarded to Mrs Shaw and relatives. Cr. Faahan seconded the motion, and referred to the deceased as a strong man and the 'father' of the Goolgardie municipality. He had put his hand into his own pocket, and advanced needful expenses to set the town going. Such a man was worthy of an enduring monument, although he had one in the hearts of his fellow citizens.

Death notices appeared in all major Australian newspapers. Among them The Brisbane Telegraph, Perth Daily News, Sydney Morning Herald, Albany Advertiser, North Western Advocate, Chronicle, Observer, Kalgoorlie Western Argus, Mount Barker Courier, NT Times and Gazette, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Tasmanian News, Northern Star, Kadina and Wallaroo Times, The Melbourne Age, Border Watch, Bendigo Advertiser and the Geralton Guardian, to name but a few.

The Mayor of Adelaide, Mr L Cohen, at the meeting of the council referred feelingly to the recent death of Mr James Shaw. Mr Shaw, he said, was a man respected not only for his great public work in connection with civic affairs, but for his honour and probity, and many other reasons which endeared him to the people of this State. In Adelaide he had occupied the positions of councillor, alderman and mayor. He sat in the council from 18S2 till 1889 and during that time many works had been accomplished which would remain monuments to his memory. Alderman Simpson moved that a letter of condolence be sent to the family.

His Obituary in the Adelaide Advertiser was substantive and read in part, 'Few men were so well known in the metropolitan districts of the Commonwealth, particularly of South Australia, as Mr. James Shaw, who served as Mayor of Adelaide and was most liberal in discharging the social duties of the office. The deceased gentleman was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1846, but was of Scotch parentage. Upon finishing his education he decided to adopt engineering as his business, in which resolution he was following in the footsteps of his father, the late Mr Hugh Shaw. Mr Shaw made an excellent start in his profession, but he could not settle down comfortably in the old country, and having read much about Australia and New Zealand he made up his mind to become an emigrant to one of the two places.

After some months of deliberation he resolved to make New Zealand his future home. Consequently he proceeded from Ireland to "God's own country" in 1864. Soon after settling down there he determined to become a contractor, and at the age of 21 he obtained important work. He carried out many large undertakings in both New Zealand and Australia. His initial success was in North Island, and the first class character of the work he performed as a contractor established his reputation at once.

In addition to making a name as a contractor Mr Shaw also won fame as a daring fighter when he took part in the Maori war. He decided to come to South Australia to live, but his aspirations were to make this State the centre of his operations throughout Australasia. He soon won his way to the front, and no better evidence of the thoroughness of the workmanship he insisted upon in connection with his contracts could be found than that afforded by the splendid masonry work, stone cutting, and other features of the South Australian marble Parliament House, the Government Offices in Victoria-square, and the Mutual Provident Society structure in King William street.

He was a strict disciplinarian in regard to the performance of their duties by his men, but there was always the utmost good feeling between employer and employee, and Mr. Shaw always treated his employees so well that he rarely had any trouble with them. He was gruff in manner, but behind the rugged, exterior there was a kind disposition in manner, there was an exceedingly kind disposition and a generous heart, and his good nature could not fail to command the respect and esteem of his workmen.

Mr Shaw erected many costly works for the Government in Victoria, and even after he left New Zealand he carried out important contracts there. Early in the eighties the deceased gentleman entered the Adelaide City Council as a representative of the Young Ward, and served as councillor for two years, he was chosen by the whole constituency to act as one of the aldermen of the city, and for the succeeding five years he wore the aldermanic robes.

Still greater municipal honours were bestowed upon him by the citizens when they selected him for the exalted position of mayor, in succession to Sir Edwin Smith. Mr Shaw showed remarkable capacity and his unbounded hospitality was such that he was often described as generous to a fault. His greatest delight when not engaged in municipal or private business was to do something which would give pleasure to others, and when he decided to retire from municipal politics the citizens freely acknowledged that Mr Shaw had carried out the social part of his mayoral duties in a manner which rendered it extremely difficult to find a worthy successor.


The House that James and Tom built.

Early in 1893 Mr Shaw went to the West, when glowing accounts were being published almost daily of wonderfully rich discoveries of gold having been made. He settled in Coolgardie and secured a 24th interest in the famous Londonderry mine, which was one of the richest properties in the West at that time. He also was chosen as the first manager and subsequently when, chiefly through his energetic labours Coolgardie was proclaimed a municipal corporation, the townspeople unanimously conferred on Mr Shaw the honour of being the first mayor.

He was just as successful and popular in the chief municipal office there as he had been in Adelaide, and was given a presentation when he retired. Some years afterwards he returned to South Australia, and except for an unsuccessful attempt to enter the Federal Parliament as member for Port Adelaide he had not taken part in public matters. He was a firm believer in the value of the New Zealand hot springs as a remedy for various ills, and being a sufferer from gout on several occasions visited that Dominion for the purpose of taking a course of baths.

He had not been seen in South Australia for some time and probably few members of the public were aware that he had gone to England with his wife on a health trip. The news of Mr. Shaw's death was conveyed to the town clerk by The Advertiser and the flags at the Town Hall were half-masted in his honour'. His wife died at Wanganui in New Zealand where she lived with her daughter.

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