SERVICE, James (1823-1899)

SERVICE, James (1823-1899)
premier of Victoria
was the son of Robert Service and was born at Kilwinning, Ayrshire, Scotland, in November 1823. He was educated at the local school, and was for some time a schoolmaster before entering on commercial life in the business of Thomas Corbett of Glasgow. He became a junior partner in this business and when he came to Australia in 1853 was for a time its representative. However, about the year 1855, he founded the business of James Service and Company, importers and wholesale merchants, which became a large and prosperous organization still in business many years after his death. When the suburb Emerald Hill, now South Melbourne, was made a municipality, Service became the first president of the council, and in 1857 was elected to represent Melbourne in the legislative assembly. At the next election he was elected for Ripon and Hampden and in October 1859 became president of the board of land and works in the Nicholson (q.v.) ministry. As minister he brought in a lands bill which first introduced the principle of deferred payments. It was, however, so mutilated by amendments that in 1860 he resigned from the cabinet. In the next parliament he took charge in the assembly, as a private member, of the Torrens transfer of real property act which had been introduced in the legislative council by George Coppin (q.v.). In 1862 Service resigned his seat, was absent in England for some time, and after his return was three times rejected by the electors when he attempted to enter parliament again.
Service was out of politics for more than 10 years. He was a convinced free-trader and protection was steadily gaining ground. In 1874 he was returned for Maldon and became treasurer in the Kerford (q.v.) ministry which only lasted until August 1875. He sat in opposition to the McCulloch (q.v.) ministry but strongly supported the formation of the Melbourne harbour trust, and as a private member carried an act relating to bills of sale and fraudulent preference to creditors. When Berry (q.v.) was elected with a large following in 1877 he offered Service the treasurership. This he could not accept but sat in the ministerial corner for about a year until he became leader of the opposition. At the election held early in 1880 Berry was defeated and Service formed his first administration taking the positions of premier and treasurer. Much time had been wasted in the past by the quarrels of the two houses of parliament and Service brought in a very reasonable reform bill which provided that if any bill were passed by the assembly in two consecutive sessions and rejected by the council, the governor might dissolve both houses. If the new assembly passed the bill again and the council again rejected it, the two houses would sit together and the majority would rule. This bill was rejected by two votes in August, and on going to the country Berry obtained a majority. In the following year Service resigned his seat and went to England for more than a year. In 1883 he was elected for Castlemaine and the parties being nearly equal a coalition government was formed, Service becoming premier and treasurer, and Berry chief secretary. This ministry did more useful work than any other Victorian ministry up to this date. A judicature act was passed with the object of simplifying and cheapening legal procedure, a public service act was brought in with a competitive examination for applicants, and under the railway management act a board of commissioners was established with the object of doing away with parliamentary influence. Other important acts dealt with the early closing of shops, the regulation of public houses, and the factories, work rooms and shops act was the fore-runner of much important social legislation. In June 1883, at a banquet at Albury celebrating the opening of the railway line between Sydney and Melbourne, Service raised again the question of federation. He supported Sir Thomas McIlwraith (q.v.) in his action with regard to the annexation of New Guinea, and suggested the inter-colonial conference which was held at Sydney in November 1883. There a bill constituting a federal council was framed which was carried by Service through the Victorian parliament in 1884. Service himself desired the establishment of a federal government, but the other premiers were comparatively lukewarm and the proposed council was to have very limited powers. New South Wales, however, stood out and for this reason the council was able to do little. Yet it was an important step in the direction of federation, and Service had shown himself to be a true leader. His health compelled him to retire from the ministry in 1886 and he again visited England. Before his departure a public subscription was made and his portrait by G. F. Folingsby was presented to the national gallery of Victoria. In the following year he was one of the representatives of Victoria at the colonial conference, where he was content to let the young and ardent Deakin (q.v.) take the lead. Returning to Australia he entered the legislative council for Melbourne province. He continued to take an interest in the federation question and at a banquet held in connexion with the federal conference of 1890 at Melbourne he was selected to propose the toast of "A United Australasia". He acutely pointed out that the lion in the path was the tariff question which federalists must either slay or be slain by. Henceforth he did not take any prominent part in public life. When the colony was passing through a troublesome time in 1892 the suggestion was made that he should come back to the legislative assembly and lead a coalition government, but the state of his health would not permit him to do this. He had hoped to live long enough to see the adoption of federation and the 1898 referendum showed that it could not be far off. He died at Melbourne on 13 April 1899.
Service had the respect of all parties. He was a successful business man, keen and farseeing, but he was also interested in more recondite matters, such as philosophy, metaphysics, and political economy. In manner he was cautious and self-restrained, in debate he was cool and logical. Never afraid to take the unpopular side, his disinterestedness and personal integrity everywhere won admiration, and he fully deserved Deakin's description as "a man of large ideas and indomitable courage". Though usually ranked as a conservative, during his second administration, in conjunction with Graham Berry, his government passed some of our earliest social legislation of value, and in the federal sphere, while recognizing the difficulties of the position, he never wavered in his belief that these difficulties could he overcome.
The Age and The Argus, Melbourne. 13 April 1899; The Times, 13 April 1899; Who's Who, 1899; H. G. Turner, A History, of the Colony of Victoria; W. Murdoch, Alfred Deakin; Quick and Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth; A. Patchett Martin, Australia and the Empire, p. 276; Henry L. Hall, Victoria's Part in the Australian Federation Movement.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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