Collingwood Notables Database
James McAlpine Tait
Newspaper editor and owner, compositor, gold miner, Protectionist
James McAlpine Tait, as owner and editor of the Collingwood Advertiser and Observer, could be described as the most powerful and resonant voice of early Collingwood. Many locals considered him the ‘Voice of Collingwood’. He was forthright in his views until his death, aged 83, in December 1911.
His strong views and lucid editorials were significant in the growth of Collingwood and Victoria. As well as being a staunch Protectionist, he supported land reform in the 1860s, abolition of State aid to church schools, the eight-hour movement, reduction of franchise qualifications, and reform of the Upper House and payment of Members. He wrote about more specifically local issues such as the provision of underground drainage and sanitation in Collingwood, valuable building land lying idle in Clifton Hill because gas and water had yet to be laid on, and the protection of street trees in Heidelberg Road. Tait saw technical education as significant in the future of the State and supported the Collingwood School of Design, established in 1870. In the 1890s he campaigned against Federation.
In his last editorial on 23 December 1909 when The Observer ceased publication, he wrote:
All along we have strenuously advocated Democratic principles; but when Democracy degenerated into socialism we put on the brake. We were almost alone in advocating the dissolution of the Church and State tie, likewise in urging the payment of members, which later we now sincerely regret. We opposed Federation, and are now satisfied that the Commonwealth is a cruel and unnecessary infliction on an already over-burdened people. From our point of view, the political look-out is not hopeful, and we will not regret being out of the coming hurly burly.
Tait, born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1828, was the only son of a newspaper proprietor. After his father’s death he was adopted by another Scottish newspaper proprietor who trained him as a compositor and reporter. In 1851 he went to America and was one of the composing staff at of the New York Herald. In the following year he came to Victoria and proceeded to the Mount Alexander and Ovens diggings where he was fairly successful. In 1854 he returned to Melbourne, married Margaret Borthwick and settled in Fitzroy. He worked as a compositor at the Herald and was the registered printer of those short-lived journals Evening News and the Dispatch.
In 1864, with a partner, he bought Sir Graham Berry’s Collingwood Observer. Later he became the sole proprietor and was also active in other community concerns. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace and regularly adjudicated at the Collingwood and Fitzroy courts, and was a stalwart of the St George’s Presbyterian Church in Wellington Street, Collingwood for thirty years.
In the 1860s he bought a house in Oxford Street, a short walk from the Smith Street office of the newspaper. Here he would suffer some sadness, as two daughters and his wife died between 1866 and 1878. He lived there until around 1890 when Foy and Gibson’s factories and warehouses were encroaching on the previously residential block between Peel Street and Stanley Street. He then moved to Clifton Hill but spent his last years in Hotham street and Forest Street in Collingwood with his son Henry, a reporter, and his daughter Margaret who kept house. His newspaper office in Smith Street was replaced by Foy and Gibson's Ladies Store in 1911.
The following obituary was written when he died:
A journalist who in his time contributed much that was of interest to the newspaper world, Mr. Tait was, perhaps, best known in this connection as editor and proprietor of the Collingwood “Observer” … a journal that enjoyed an existence for something like half a century, and most of the matter appearing therein was from the pen of Mr. Tait himself. Fine matter it was too, and worthy of being read by a far larger circle than usually casts an eye over suburban publications. His pars were put together in a chatty style, quite his own, they were altogether out of the ordinary rut and very refreshing after the every-day, dry-as-dust writing which is now-a-days branded as “news”. Mr. Tait was a picker-up of type, and frequently set his “copy” without writing a line thereof. Standing before the case he set away contentedly, and put together many a leading article which caused people to think, and many a par which brought a smile to the face of the reader.
Fitzroy City Press, 22 December 1911, p. 3
11 Hodgkinson Street
77 Hotham Street
7 Forest Street
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Margaret Borthwick (c. 1838-1875)||25 August 1854||c. 1854-1866 Annie Jane, 1856 John, 1864-1943 Margaret Allison, 18??-1878 Annie Jane Lindsay, 1869-1970 Henry Falconer|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|85 Oxford Street||Collingwood||Demolished|
|11 Hodgkinson Street||Clifton Hill||Extant|
|77 Hotham Street||Collingwood||Extant|
|7 Forest Street||Collingwood||Extant|
|Work Street||Work City||Status of Building|
|155 Smith Street||Fitzroy||Demolished|
|St George's Presbyterian, Wellington Street Collingwood|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|11 December 1911||Collingwood||MGC|
The Collingwood Advertiser and Observer, the Advertiser and Observer, The Observer City and Suburban Advertiser (usually referred to as The Observer); Fitzroy City Press; Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 6 1976; Barrett, The making of an industrial environment, Collingwood, Victoria, 1851-91; Tait, Our local men of the times: biographical sketches of the prominent citizens of Collingwood and Fitzroy