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australian rowers profiles and history

J W Graham

Ballarat City Rowing Club (VIC)

Mr. James William Graham - Founder of Ballarat City Rowing Club, First Captain1870-71

Born 1830 - died April 19th, 1910.

Mr. J. W. Graham was one of the early pioneers of Ballarat. He was a well-known local figure especially at the Stock Exchange where he was a prominent member. He was born in the North of Ireland and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1851 on the ship “Eliza”. Soon after he moved to Victoria and settled for a short time in Geelong. There he was in business as a builder and contractor erecting a number of leading business buildings in Ryrie and Moorabool Streets and also a number of private residences in South Geelong between Newtown and the Barwon Bridge. He was attracted to Ballarat, as were many, by the gold rushes and he witnessed the fight between the diggers and the soldiers on Eureka on the 3rd of December 1854. He was well acquainted with Raffaello Carboni, Peter Lalor, Verne, Black and other leaders in that rebellious movement. He was the first to go to the assistance of a man named Thonen who hawked cordials around the diggings and was known as the ‘Soda Water man’. Thonen a native of Prussia, while cheering the diggers on, was shot in the mouth by one of the soldiers and died soon afterwards.

Graham continued mining for some time at Smythesdale and other diggings and finally returned to Ballarat and his former trade as a builder in partnership with Mr. Carroll. Their workshops were on the site now occupied by Mr John Snow and Company (Myers) He was also the legal manager of several of the early mining companies.

In his early days, Mr. Graham, who was a great sportsman, assisted in the formation of the Regatta Club and was associated with Ned Williams in the early days of the club. He founded the Ballarat City Rowing Club in 1870 after the refilling of Lake Wendouree which had been dry owing to a five year drought. J. W. Graham called a meeting of interested men on November 17th 1870. On November 18th, 1870 the (Ballarat) Star newspaper reported that the first meeting, chaired by Mr. J. W. Graham, was well attended by boating men. They passed a resolution that a new rowing club be formed to be called the City Rowing Club. Subscriptions were set at 1 pound per year. Mr Thomas Cowan, the Mayor of Ballarat in 1869, was elected president, Daniel Brophy (publican and prominent citizen) as treasurer and Mr. A. E. Little the honorary secretary. About twenty members enrolled themselves and the meeting was adjourned.  One week later the adjourned meeting was held, again at Brophy’s Hotel in Sturt Street with Mr. Graham in the chair. A committee was elected comprising the following gentlemen: - Messrs. Bryant, Jinks, Smith, Tynan, H. Copeland, Sweeney and O’Donnell. Mr. Graham was appointed Captain and it was decided that the club colours would be a blue cap with a red stripe. After the first year of operation of the club he did not serve on the committee and left to pursue other interests particularly football. He was made a Life member in 1877 and the club made a presentation to him in 1879. 

Graham also took a great interest in football and boxing. He was president of Albion Imperial Football Club when they won the premiership in 1882. He was the first secretary of the Ballarat Trades and Labour Council. He was one of the founders of the Ballarat Free Library and the Ballarat Old Colonist’s Association. It was as an officer and a member of the Old Colonist’s Association that Mr Graham was best known in the latter 20 or 30 years. He was the first president holding office from 1883 until 1886. In later years he became secretary and also filled this position at the Old Colonist’s Club. He retired from active work just two and a half years before his death. He also played an important part in the foundation and growth of the City Free Library and was one of its trustees at the time of his death. It was largely due to his enterprise and business acumen that the library obtained the very fine property in which its collection was held in Camp Street. For many years he acted as deputy returning officer to Col. Sleep in the City.

He married and had five children. They were Miss Graham, who was a librarian at the City Free Library, Mrs. H. D. Mudie, Miss Lizzie Graham and Mr. William Graham who at the time of his father’s demise was on the West Australian goldfields. Another son Mr Gil Graham predeceased his father by four or five years. Mr. Graham died on the 19th of April 1910 aged 80. He was the last of the pioneer members who started the club and who remembered the early days of Lake Wendouree to die.

Kate Elliott
October 2021

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