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Sir Walter Hartwell James (Liberal)

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Sir Walter James1 July 1902 to 10 August 1904

Sir Walter James came to politics via a stint as a jackaroo and then lawyer. He was born in Perth in 1863. At 14 years of age his father died. As a young man he went to work at De Grey station in the Pilbara as a jackaroo but after being shipwrecked off Rottnest in 1883 on his way back to the North-West, he decided to abandon his pastoralist pursuits and turn to law. He was articled to George Leake MLA, furthered his studies in England, and was admitted to the Western Australian Bar in 1888.

He represented the City Ward on Perth City Council for seven years from 1891 and was elected MLA for the working class seat of East Perth in 1894.

James became an active member of the Western Australian Liberal Association, a reformist organisation that pursued liberal ideals. Interestingly, James was a strong supporter of the federalist movement and, along with George Leake and Sir John Forrest, was a member of the WA delegation to the Federal Convention 1897 and 1898. He campaigned ardently for WA to join the Federation and was also the chief advocate in Parliament for the women's suffrage movement.

He took over as Premier at 39 years of age in 1902 after Leake's death. He tried to reform the franchise during his term as Premier but his legislation was defeated in the Upper House. His government was defeated in 1904 and he resigned to accept the job as Agent General for WA in London.

When he returned to WA he devoted himself to his legal practice and rose to prominence as a leading member of the Bar.

In 1909, he was appointed to a Royal Commission to look into the setting up of a university in Perth. When the University of Western Australia was established he became a foundation member of its Senate and was later elected chancellor in 1930. Two years later he turned down an offer from Premier Sir James Mitchell to become Lieutenant-Governor of WA.

He was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1936, seven years before he died.


Acknowledgement of Country

The Government of Western Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.