Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Munro, James

MUNRO, JAMES (1832–1908), premier of Victoria, Australia, born on 7 Jan. 1832 at Glen Dubh in the parish of Eddrachillis, Sutherlandshire, was second son of Donald Munro of Glen Dubh, by his wife Georgina Scobie Mackay. Educated at the village school of Armadale, Sutherlandshire, he began life as a printer, serving his apprenticeship in Messrs. Constable's printing-works at Edinburgh. He emigrated to Victoria in 1858 and worked as a printer until 1865, when he founded the Victorian Permanent Property Investment and Building Society, of which for seventeen years he acted as secretary. He was also instrumental in starting the Melbourne woollen mills and the Victorian Permanent Fire Insurance Co. Taking advantage of the steady appreciation in land values, Munro founded in 1882 the Federal Banking Company and for three years conducted its operations as managing director. In 1887 he established the Real Estate Bank.

In 1863 he turned his attention to politics. After an unsuccessful attempt to enter the legislative assembly for Dundas, he was elected in 1874 for North Melbourne as a supporter of James Goodall Francis [q. v.], and in 1877 for Carlton. He was defeated in 1880, but re-entered parliament for North Melbourne in April 1881. In March 1886 and March 1889 he was returned for Geelong. Always a staunch liberal, Munro was minister of public instruction in the first Berry ministry from 10 Aug. to 20 Oct. 1875. He declined office in the second Berry administration in 1877, and joined with J. J. Casey in forming a 'corner party' on the liberal side. He led the opposition to the Gillies-Deakin government, and in 1890, on his return from a visit to England, he attacked the financial policy of that cabinet and carried a vote of want of confidence. As a result he took office as treasurer and premier on 5 Nov. 1890. At the meeting of the federal convention in Sydney in 1891, Munro was one of the representatives of Victoria. Financial pressure due to the depreciation of land values led Munro to resign the premiership in February 1902 and become agent-general of the colony in London. Returning to Melbourne in November following, amid financial difficulties and failing health, he resigned that retired from public life.

Apart from politics Munro's chief interest lay in temperance work. For many years he was the leader in the of the temperance party in the Victorian parliament, and was at one time president of the Victorian Alliance and the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society and chief officer of the Order of Rechabites.

He was an executive commissioner at the Melbourne exhibitions of 1880–1 and 1888–9, and at the Philadelphia, Sydney, and Paris exhibitions.

Munro died at his daughter's residence at Malvern, a suburb of Melbourne, on 25 Feb. 1908. He married on 31 Dec. 1853, Jane, only daughter of Donald Macdonald of Edinburgh, and had four sons and three daughters.

[Victorian Men of the Time, 1878; Burke's Colonial Gentry, ii. 838; Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biog. 1892; The Times, 27 Feb. 1908; Melbourne Argus, 16 Feb. 1908; Turner's Hist. of the Colony of Victoria, vol. ii.; Colonial Office Records.]

C. A.