Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Patterson, James Browne

PATTERSON, Sir JAMES BROWNE (1833–1895), Australian statesman, born at Link Hall in Northumberland on 18 Nov. 1833, was the youngest son of James Patterson, a district road inspector. He was educated at Alnwick, and emigrated to Victoria in 1852 on the discovery of gold. After mining unsuccessfully at the Forest Creek goldfields, he engaged in farming on the river Loddon at Glenlyon, near Daylesford, in 1856, and finally settled in the Castlemaine district, where he conducted the business of a slaughterman at Chewton. On 5 Dec. 1870 Patterson, after two unsuccessful candidatures, was returned to the colonial legislative assembly for Castlemaine, a seat which he retained until his death. He was a strong advocate of protection in trade, supported the ministry of Sir James McCulloch [q. v.] in 1870 and 1871, and was an active opponent of (Sir) Charles Gavan Duffy's administration in 1871 and 1872. He supported James Goodall Francis [q. v.], who came into power in June 1872, but not very strenuously; and when, in July 1874, Francis transferred the premiership to George Biscoe Kerferd, Patterson joined the opposition, led by (Sir) Graham Berry. On the resignation of the Kerferd ministry in August 1875, Berry took office and gave Patterson the position of commissioner of public works and president of the board of land and works. On 7 Oct. the ministry were defeated by a coalition between McCulloch and Kerferd, and Patterson remained out of office until May 1877, when Berry, being returned with an immense majority, restored Patterson to the same offices, giving him the additional charge of postmaster-general. In that ministry there was a small inner cabinet consisting of Berry, Major William Collard Smith, Patterson, and, afterwards, Sir Bryan O'Loghlen. Of these Patterson was the most active and carried most weight in the government. In March 1880 Berry's ministry fell, but in July another general election on the question of the reform of the constitution brought him back to power. On returning to office he retained only Patterson and Smith among his former colleagues. Patterson was appointed minister of railways. Profiting from experience he was extremely moderate in his counsels. Largely owing to his advocacy a compromise on the subject of the reform of the constitution was effected, by which the legislative council was enlarged and strengthened. He also made an unsuccessful effort to exempt the railway system from political influence.

On the defeat of the ministry in July 1881 Patterson went into opposition, but he had ceased to be a strong partisan. Convinced that the colony required a stable government, he and Simon Fraser succeeded in bringing about a coalition in 1883 between Berry and James Service [q. v. Suppl.] Under these leaders the country enjoyed a period of political tranquillity. In April 1889 he accepted the portfolio of minister of the customs in Duncan Gillies's ministry, which he had at one time strongly opposed, and succeeded in passing a new tariff, which consisted almost entirely of new or increased duties. This tariff he subsequently acknowledged he regretted more than anything in his political career. From June to September 1890 he filled the additional office of minister of public works, and from September to November that of postmaster-general. The energy with which he persuaded his colleagues to call out the troops in Melbourne in consequence of the disorders of the great maritime strike hastened the downfall of the ministry at the close of 1890. On 23 Jan. 1893, after a visit to England, he overthrew the administration of William Shiels, and was invited to form a ministry in which, besides the office of premier, he held that of minister of railways. Realising the unsound financial position of the colony, he sought a remedy in retrenchment and the development of the export trade. Early in his ministry, however, an astonishing succession of bank failures shattered public credit. He resisted incitements to extreme measures of relief for particular institutions, prepared by interested or panic-stricken persons, but he consented to the doubtful expedient of declaring a bank holiday of five days to give the banks time to collect their resources. Government's popularity was impaired by the financial distress, and in August 1894 Patterson was defeated on the budget. His successors, however, continued his financial policy.

Patterson was created K.C.M.G. in 1894, and died at Murrumbeena, near Melbourne, on 30 Oct. 1895. He was buried in Melbourne cemetery on 1 Nov. In 1857 he married Miss Walton. His wife died on 2 Dec. 1894, leaving an only child, who married Mr. A. Kaeppel.

[Melbourne Argus, 31 Oct. 1895; Mennell's Dict. of Australian Biogr. 1892; Annual Register.]

E. I. C.