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Balfour, James (1830–1913)

from Argus (Melbourne)

James Balfour, n.d.

James Balfour, n.d.

Pastoral Review, 15 September 1913

It will come as a great shock to the political, business, and personal friends of Mr James Balfour, M.L.C., to learn of his death, which took place at his residence, Windella, Studley Park road, Kew, at 9 o'clock last night. Mr. Balfour was present at the meeting of the Legislative Council held on Tuesday, when he appeared to be in his usual health. He contributed to the debate on the supplementary estimates and his speech was full of characteristic vigour. On the following day he became ill suddenly, and death was the result of an attack of pneumonia and pleurisy.

Mr. Balfour was the "father" of the Legislative Council, in which he had occupied a seat continuously for 30 years. His Parliamentary record, however, goes back even further than that, for 47 years ago he was a member of the Legislative Assembly. Although 83 years of age, he was up to within a few days of his death a virile man, clear-headed and forceful in debate, and physically active and energetic. His kindly personality and courtly manners made his a notable figure in the Council, and, while enjoying the strong friendship of the veterans of both Houses, he was warmly regarded by the new men for the helping hand he extended, and the high standard he set in personal and political probity.

The son of a Leith merchant, the late Mr. Balfour was born in Edinburgh in 1830. He followed commercial pursuits, and in the early fifties on coming to Melbourne he became associated with the firm of Messrs James Henty and Co, for whom, in 1854 he opened a Geelong branch. Despite his business activities, Mr. Balfour found time to devote interest to public matters, and in 1866 he was elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly for East Bourke. Prior to the establishment of the Department of Education he was, for three years, one of the Commissioners of Education. He sat as the member for East Bourke for two years and in 1868 resigned his seat and paid a visit to England—the second since his arrival in Victoria. Returning to Melbourne, he was elected, in 1874, to the Legislative Council of which he has been a member continuously ever since.

Mr. Balfour’s political career covered a greater number of years than that of any other surviving public man in Victoria. He held the East Bourke seat in the Assembly during part of the stormy times of the tariff und Darling Grant crises. Later on he was elected to the Legislative Council, and as the South-Eastern Province was from time to time remodelled Mr. Balfour stood for the part which lay nearest the city and ultimately, in the last redistribution was elected for the East Yarra Province. His business interests prevented him from accepting many offers of office made to him but on two occasions he found it possible to join Cabinets in an honorary capacity—first in the Gillies Ministry, towards the end of his career, in 1890, and then with Mr. McLean from December 5, 1899, to November, 1900.

These were, however, merely incidents in a long career of usefulness in the Council. Mr. Balfour, whose tendencies while a member of the Legislative Assembly were towards the Radical side of politics, had by the time he entered the Council become convinced of the necessity for safe and prudent counsels in public affairs. He had not long been a member of that body when it was plunged into the second of the severe conflicts with the Legislative Assembly brought about by the aggression of the extremists who sought to paralyse the power of the Upper House, and whose undisguised object was to make the Legislative Assembly paramount in all legislation.

The defenders of the Constitution who were led in the Council by Sir Charles Sladen included a number of most stalwart upholders of the bicameral system of government, and none was more sturdy nor more effective in his speeches than Mr. Balfour. The history of the time does not required to be retold further than to say that the onslaught was repelled, and the Legislative Council, whose members were always favourable to the broadening of its basis, emerged triumphant from the fight. It speaks volumes for the part Mr. Balfour played in the controversy that as the number of voters for the Legislative Council was increased his hold on the confidence of his constituents became stronger.

The late Mr. Balfour was as well known in business as in political circles. He made a third trip to England in 1878 and on his return he established the mercantile business carried on under the name of Messrs. James Balfour and Co. Amongst the companies with which he had been associated as a director are the Australian Deposit and Mortgage Bank and the Trustees, Executors and Agency Company Limited.

Apart from his Parliamentary and his business career Mr. Balfour took an active part in the courts of the Presbyterian Church. He was a devout son of that church and gave without stint of the best that was in him for the promotion of its welfare. He was perhaps the foremost layman in the General Assembly for Victoria and was during the stormy proceedings of the early eighties an uncompromising upholder of his convictions in relation to church polity. Both in and out of Parliament he was a strong advocate of Bible instruction in State schools.

In 1859 Mr. Balfour married Frances Charlotte, eldest daughter of the late Mr. James Henty. His widow and nine children—five sons and four daughters—survive him. The funeral will take place tomorrow afternoon. There will be a service at the West Hawthorn Presbyterian Church at 2 o clock.

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'Balfour, James (1830–1913)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/balfour-james-55/text1543, accessed 22 August 2018.

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