Minister for Public Instruction, 15/11/1916 - 12/04/1920
Minister for Labour and Industry, 23/07/1919 - 12/04/1920
Acting Minister for Local Government, 11/07/1917 - 03/12/1917
Acting Judge, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 21/09/1920 - 04/01/1921
Judge, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 05/01/1921 - 27/02/1934
Commissioner, Royal Commission appointed to inquire into certain allegations regarding the purchase and re-sale of cornsacks by the Minister of Agriculture, 27/10/1925 - 13/11/1925
Augustus George Frederic James (known as Gus) was born at Sydney on 30 October 1866, the son of the Reverend George James, a Primitive Methodist Minister, and his wife Ann Matilda. His brother, Adolphus Summer Cloud James, became a prominent Presbyterian minister. Augustus was educated at Fort Street School, Sydney, Hurstville College, Goulburn, and the University of Sydney (BA 1888) where he won the 1885 Walker Bursary No.1. (1)
James was called to the New South Wales Bar on 7 March 1891. He practised out of Wentworth Court and on the Southern and South-western Circuit, primarily in Common Law. His appointment as a King's Counsel was approved by the Executive Council on 29 October 1919 and he was a Crown Prosecutor on four occasions for the Southern Circuit. (2)
James was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 10 September 1907 to 21 September 1920 for the seat of Goulburn, representing the Liberal and National Parties. He was Minister for Public Instruction in the Holman Ministry (No.36) from 15 November 1916 to 12 April 1920. Also he was Minister for Labour and Industry from 23 July 1919 to 12 April 1920. In addition he was Acting Minister for Local Government during the absence of John Daniel Fitzgerald from 11 July to 3 December 1917. Although re-elected on 20 March 1920, he resigned seven months later following his appointment to the Supreme Court. On 19 November 1920 he was allowed to retain the title of 'Honourable' having served on the Executive Council for more than three years. (3)
James was appointed an Acting Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 21 September 1920 for six months. His appointment was viewed with suspicion in Parliament. The Opposition claimed that the incoming Storey Labor Government was getting rid of James to give themselves a temporary majority and possibly win his vacated seat at a by-election. Before his acting appointment expired James was appointed a Puisne Judge on 5 January 1921. He sat primarily in the Common Law jurisdiction, but also sat in the Divorce jurisdiction if there was a backlog of cases. In Divorce he had a reputation for speedy hearings and on one occasion heard 25 divorces in 35 minutes. (4)
James conducted the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into certain allegations regarding the purchase and re-sale of cornsacks by the Minister of Agriculture. Created by Commissions dated 27 October and 2 November 1925, James reported on 13 November 1925. The inquiry examined the allegations by Thomas Rainsford Bavin, Leader of the Opposition, on 22 October that the Minister for Agriculture, William Fraser Dunn, did not call tenders either for the original sale or re-sale, did not consult with officers of the Department, and failed to get the best price, while using an agent who was a friend. James found that the prospect of a good crop and the resultant unexpectedly bad harvest caused the price fluctuations and that the secrecy was important to prevent the Government's large purchase artificially increasing and then decreasing the price. Neither Dunn, not his agent Turnbull, profited by the sales. (5)
James was a prominent footballer and cricketer in the Goulburn and Maitland districts in his youth and played lawn tennis with the Wahgunyah Club. Known as the 'sporting judge', he followed a variety of sports throughout his life, including boxing. (6)
James died on 27 February 1934 at his home at Woollahra Point. He was survived by his wife Altona Johanna nee Bohrsmann, whom he married on 17 August 1892, and three daughters and one of his two sons. (7)
1. Fred Johns, Who's Who in the Commonwealth of Australia, various, 1922, p.141; 1927, p.133; Who's Who in Australia, Melbourne, Herald Press, 1933, p.174; Cyclopedia of New South Wales, Sydney, McCarron, Stewart and Co, 1907, p.316; Sydney Morning Herald 28 February 1934, p.14; 'The Hon. Augustus George Frederic James [Former Member]', New South Wales Parliament website https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/members/formermembers/Pages/former-member-details.aspx?pk=1177 (cited 12 December 2017); New South Wales Government Gazette, No.36, 5 February 1861, p.356; Probate Jurisdiction [Supreme Court of New South Wales]; NRS 13660, Probate packets, 1817 - Ann Matilda James of Forest Lodge, died 7 May 1910, Series 4, No.49998 [SC002069]; Australian Law Journal, Vol.7, p.431 (15 March 1934); University of Sydney Calendar, 1885, pp.155, 201-2; 1886, pp.159, 190, 206-7, 295; 1887, pp.160, 213; 1888, pp.158, 222; 1889, p.320 http://calendararchive.usyd.edu.au/index.php (cited 17 March, 12 May 2008 and 31 March 2009).
2. Barristers Admission Board; NRS 13665, Roll of Barristers, 15 June 1876 - 1 December 1926; Reel 2147, p.6; New South Wales Law Almanac, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1892, p.35; 1894, p.36; 1905, p.45; 1907, pp.49, 51; 1908, pp.50, 53; 1920, pp.63, 69; Attorney General's Department [III]; NRS 333, Letters received - Special Bundles, 1874-1984; [10/42918] Correspondence re appointment of King's Counsels, 1898-1941; Cyclopedia of New South Wales, op.cit.; Sydney Morning Herald 28 February 1934, p.14.
3. Cyclopedia of New South Wales, op.cit.; New South Wales Parliamentary Record Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, 1824-1999, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1999, pp.260-61; 'NSW Elections - Candidate Index - 29', New South Wales Election results 1856-2007, http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/resources/nswelectionsanalysis/CandidateIndexes/CandidateIndex29.htm (cited 6 April 2009); NSW Government Gazette, No.202, 19 November 1920, p.6790.
4. ibid, No.172, 24 September 1920, p.5627; No.3, 7 January 1921, p.44; JM Bennett (ed.), A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Sydney, Law Book Company Ltd, 1974, pp.55-6; State Reports New South Wales, Sydney, Law Book Company of Australasia Ltd, Vol.20 (1920), Vol.21 (1921); Vol.34 (1934); New South Wales Law Almanac for 1941, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1941, p.44; Sydney Morning Herald 28 February 1934, p.14.
5. D H Borchardt, Checklist of Royal Commissions Select Committees of Parliament and Boards of Inquiry, Part IV New South Wales 1855-1960, Bundoora, La Trobe University Library, 1975, pp.299-300; Joint Volumes of Papers presented to the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1925-26, Vol.1, pp.55-61.
6. Cyclopedia of New South Wales, op.cit.; Sydney Morning Herald 28 February 1934, p.14.
7. ibid.; 'The Hon. Augustus George Frederic James [Former Member]', New South Wales Parliament website, op.cit.; Who's Who in Australia, op.cit..