James Graham


Merchant, early settler, Member of Parliament

Personal Photo 1

James Graham was among the first European people to live in Collingwood. He lived in a hut on land owned by JDL Campbell near Dight’s Falls on the banks of the Yarra, and supervised the building of his house Campbellfield.

His copious letters and the records of his business dealings provide details about personal and commercial life in Melbourne from 1839. Graham always regarded himself as Scottish although born in Ireland where a previous generation had re-located, and only moving to Cupar in the Scottish county of Fife in his teens. The Campbells were friends of the Graham family and the young man travelled on the same ship as them, arriving in Sydney in January 1839. Mr Campbell and Graham overlanded from Sydney to Port Phillip. They pitched a tent by the river Yarra, on the 20-acre allotment which Campbell had bought in the government land sales. The moment Mr Campbell saw the country he made up his mind to build a house and bring down his family. He remained living in the tent for about six weeks till he had completed all his arrangements about building and then returned to Parramatta, while Graham remained to superintend operations.

Graham was concerned with the lack of security in a tent so had a log hut built, which:

I have made very comfortable, having plastered inside and outside with mud and whitewashed it, which makes it look very spruce. It is quite a palace compared with some of the settlers’ huts, for in this country they are not at all particular where they live. [It is] 21 feet long and … I made one end a stable for the horse. The other is my kitchen dining room etc. I live all alone except for [Campbell’s valuable] horse and three faithful dogs. I bake my own bread, cook my own meat, wash my pots pans dishes etc, sweep my floor with all the other little etceteras in housekeeping. I am now a great adept in baking damper, very few in the colony can beat me at it and, as for cooking a beef steak or mutton chop or a roast of beef or leg of mutton or making a potato or pea soup or barley broth, I would not give in to anyone here. I astonished Mr Campbell very much at all my first attempts. We sent a barrel of oaten meal down here by sea and lived for a long time on porridgeA number of our Scotch acquaintances here used to come miles in the morning and get a plateful of porridge.

Notwithstanding his new way of life, Graham maintained middle-class attitudes. He had twelve men working on the site, but despite being lonely when eating his evening meal, did not fraternise with them, not even two Fifemen whom he trusted absolutely. They lived in gunyahs ‘at a respectful distance’.

The site that has been chosen for the house is an excellent one being on the prettiest part of the river and at the head of the upper two waterfalls close together and which are the only ones on the whole river. It commands an extensive view of the country all round and a long stretch of the river. The bank on this side is bolder and rocky while on the opposite side gradually rises from the water's edge to a very high and beautiful hill. You see from this what a romantic spot my hut is situated, among the Mimosa trees now in full bloom, with innumerable species of parrots, cockatoos and parroquets hopping in the branches.

For such a young man, Graham proved to be an excellent merchant or agent. This was an important role in Port Phillip, arranging the shipping of squatters’ wool to Britain and importing the necessaries of life which could not yet be bought locally, and often acting as an informal banker. While living at Campbellfield he travelled into Melbourne three times a week to collect mail, meet ships, and attend church service on Sundays. He moved into Melbourne around November 1839 and the Campbells stayed with him briefly before settling in their new house. Graham was a frequent visitor both at Campbellfield and at Mayfield, the McCraes’ nearby riverside house, and married a young relative of the McCraes. When Campbell died young, Graham continued to act for Mrs Campbell, letting and later selling the house and managing her other properties.

A serious young man, he wrote disparagingly of the dissolute behaviour of other young men in the colony. He was industrious, sober and honest and eventually became one of Victoria's most prominent men of commerce as well as a Member of Parliament.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
5 February 1819 Ennis, County Clare, Ireland
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Mary Alleyne (Mamie) Cobham 24 September 1845, Mark Nicholson’s station, Falls of Hopkins, in the Western District 18 children born, 8 died young
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Reilly Street Abbotsford Demolished
Church Lodge
Presbytérien, later Anglican
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
31 July 1898 South Yarra MGC

Graham, Pioneer merchant