AGNEW, Sir James Willson (1815-1901)

AGNEW, Sir James Willson (1815-1901)
premier of Tasmania
was born at Ballyclare, county Antrim, Ireland, on 2 October 1815. His father, James William Agnew, was an M.D. of Glasgow university, his mother was originally Ellen Stewart. Agnew was educated at London, Paris and Glasgow, and qualified for the medical profession, M.R.C.S. in 1838, and M.D. Glasgow, 1839. He almost at once went to Australia and arrived at Sydney before the close of 1839. He decided to settle in what is now the Western district of Victoria, but not liking the life, went to Melbourne, where he was offered the position of private secretary to Sir John Franklin then governor of Tasmania. He sailed for Hobart and found that the position had been filled. He was, however, appointed medical officer at the Cascades Peninsula, whence he transferred to the General Hospital at Hobart. This was followed by private practice in Hobart for many years. He had joined the Tasmanian Society, afterwards the Royal Society of Tasmania, in 1841, and in that year contributed an article to its journal on the "Poison of the Tasmanian Snakes". In March 1851 he was elected a member of the council and remained on the council until his death some 50 years later. He was honorary secretary from 1861 to 1893, and for several years a vice-president. He retired from his profession and was elected to the legislative council in 1877. He was a member of the Fysh (q.v.) ministry in that year, without portfolio, and was also in the Giblin(q.v.) ministry which succeeded it, and in the second Giblin ministry from October 1879 to February 1881. He was then absent from the colony on a long visit to Europe. After his return he was elected to the legislative council in 1884, and in 1886 formed a ministry in which he was premier and chief secretary. This lasted a little more than 12 months and he resigned on 20 March 1887. His last years were spent at Hobart where he died on 8 November 1901. He was created K.C.M.G. in January 1895. He married (1) in 1846 Louisa Mary Fraser who died in 1868, and (2) in 1878, Blanche Legge. There were several children by the first marriage, of whom only a daughter survived him.
Agnew was much respected in Hobart all his life. He was a useful politician, and his general interests, especially in the cultural life of the community, made him one of the best-known men in Tasmania. He fostered the Royal Society and gave many volumes to its library, he was much interested in the museum and botanical gardens and the public library, of which he was chairman. He was also president of the Tasmanian Racing Club and of the Tasmanian Club.
Burke's Colonial Gentry, 1895, vol. II, p. 591; The Mercury, Hobart, 9 November 1901; The Examiner, Launceston, 9 November 1901; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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