Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Service, James

SERVICE, JAMES (1823–1899), politician and pioneer colonist of Melbourne, Australia, son of Robert Service, was born at Kilwinning, Ayrshire, in November 1823. He was in early life connected with the mercantile firm of Thomas Corbett & Co., Glasgow, but he broke off the connection in August 1853, when he emigrated to Melbourne. There he at once founded the commercial firm of James Service & Co., with which his name was thenceforth associated. Throughout life he was busily engaged as a merchant and bank director, but from the first he took a leading part in public and municipal affairs in Melbourne. When Sir William Foster Stawell [q. v.] then attorney-general, was made chief justice, Service was elected in his stead as member for Melbourne in the legislative assembly in 1857.

In the next parliament Service was elected for Ripon and Hampden, and from October 1859 to September 1860 was minister for lands in the Nicholson government [see Nicholson, William, 1816-1865], when he introduced the first land bill involving the principle of 'selection before survey.' This important measure was rejected by the legislative council, whereupon Service conferred what has been rightly described as 'an enormous boon on the colony,' by passing what is popularly called the Torrens Act for facilitating the transfer of real property [see Torrens, Sir Robert Richard].

In 1862 Service visited England, returning to Australia in March 1865, when he found the colony seething over the new protectionist tariff of the McCulloch government [see McCulloch, Sir James]. Protection henceforth was the popular democratic cry, but Service remained a staunch free-trader. Such an attitude, despite his liberal views on the land question, effectually kept him out of parliament until 1874. In that year he was returned for Maldon, and took office as treasurer in the Kerford government, which lasted but a short time. On 29 July 1878 Service, who was always a strong imperialist, was the principal speaker at the great meeting of the citizens of Melbourne held in support of Lord Beaconsfield's action at the Berlin Congress.

In 1880 Service was called upon to form a cabinet, but it was immediately ousted on making an appeal to the country in regard to the constitutional reform of both houses of the legislature. He revisited England, returning in 1883 to Victoria, when he was elected member for Castlemaine as the recognised leader of the conservative or 'constitutional' party. He next formed a coalition with Mr. (afterwards Sir) Graham Berry, the liberal leader, and became premier of Victoria in 1883.

The Service-Berry government attempted to deal with the thorny question of civil service reform by transferring all appointments into the hands of government commissioners; thereby it was hoped to deal a fatal blow to political 'influence' and possible ministerial corruption. Service himself took up a strong position with regard to the annexation by European powers of Western Pacific islands. This question led to a desire for federation, which has reached its culmination in the formation of the Australian commonwealth in 1900. With a view to procuring the adoption of the principles of federation Service brought about in 1882 the Sydney conference, and in 1884 carried through the Victorian parliament a bill for the creation of a federal council of Australasia. This federal council first met at Hobart on 25 Jan. 1886.

In 1885 Service resigned the premiership of Victoria and revisited England, where he was appointed one of the four Victorian delegates at the colonial conference of 1887 in Downing Street. Service believed with Sir Samuel Griffith that that conference ought to be the precursor of other similar conclaves, and argued that the nebulous feeling in favour of imperial federation should issue in the formation of a superior council, in which the entire empire should be represented, and which should 'have the supreme control of all purely imperial affairs' (Mennell).

On returning to Victoria, Service became a member of the upper house the legislative council taking his seat for the Melbourne province. He declined to act as one of the Victorian representatives of the Sydney convocation in 1891, and gradually retired from active participation in public affairs. He died at Melbourne on 12 April 1899. Few Australian statesmen have so worthily gained the popular esteem of their fellow-colonists.

[Mennell's Dictionary of Australasian Biography; H. J. Robinson's Colonial Chronology; Levey's Victorian Men of the Time; Times, 13 and 14 April 1899; Who's Who, 1899; the leading Australian journals, and personal knowledge.]

A. P. M.