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Farnell, James Squire (1825–1888)

After the announcement in yesterday's issue of the critical state of health of Mr. J. S. Farnell, our readers will hear with regret, though not with surprise, that he passed away about 5 o'clock yesterday morning, at his residence, Hillview, Lewisham. For a considerable time past Mr. Farnell's health had been unsatisfactory, and during the past few weeks he had been compelled to keep his bed. On Wednesday last his condition became so serious that his medical attendant, Dr. Thring, engaged in consultation with Dr. Sydney Jones, and it was agreed that the patient was drawing near the end, paralysis in the region of the throat having supervened, and the brain also being affected. Late on Friday night Mr. Farnell sank rapidly, and he passed away composedly at the hour mentioned.

Mr. James Squire Farnell was born at Parramatta in the year 1827. He was educated in that town and in Sydney and was brought up, as most of the colonial young men of that day were, with a thorough knowledge of bushcraft, horses, cattle, and sheep. Being of an enterprising disposition, he commenced at an early age to travel with stock, and in this way made himself acquainted with the various districts of the colony as far as settlement had then progressed. While still a young man, Mr. Farnell made a voyage to California, being one of those who were attracted to that country by the gold discoveries of 1848. Subsequently he returned to New South Wales, and thence proceeded to New Zealand, the greater part of which he travelled over before finally returning to Sydney. After the introduction of Responsible Government, Mr. Farnell began to take an interest in politics, but it was not until the agitation for land reform, in the year 1860, that he entered Parliament. On May 2 of that year he was elected member for St. Leonards, and he represented that electorate until the dissolution of the Parliament in the following November. At the ensuing election, when the burning question of the day was "free selection before survey," Mr. Farnell was rejected by St. Leonards, his views being opposed to the popular cry, as he advocated the formation of surveyed agricultural areas, in which selection could take place. Free selection, however, under the Robertson Land Act of 1861, became the law of the land; but Mr. Farnell did not re-enter Parliament until November 24, 1864, when he was returned for Parramatta. This borough he continued to represent until the dissolution in November, 1874. At the general election which followed Mr. Farnell, who was now Minister for Lands, lost his seat, but was elected for St. Leonards, which he continued to represent up to the dissolution in 1882. The land question, which had caused the overthrow of several Cabinets, was still unsettled in 1872. Several bills had been brought in to amend the Act of 1861, but none had succeeded. In 1872 the Government of Sir James Martin, in which Mr. J. B. Wilson had been Lands Minister, came to grief over the border duties, and Sir Henry (then Mr.) Parkes was entrusted with the task of forming an Administration. Mr. Farnell, who had long been acting side by side with Mr. Parkes, was offered by him the position of Minister for Lands, which he accepted, and thus found himself in the position of administing a Land Act the main provision of which–free selection before survey–he did not approve of. At the same time, it must be said, that no one ever questioned the fairness and impartiality with which Mr. Farnell administered that law. For about two months after the formation of this Ministry Mr. Farnell acted as Minister for Mines; but in July, 1872, that office was separated from the Lands, and made a distinct department. In February, 1875, in consequence of an adverse vote on the Gardiner question, the Parkes Ministry resigned; and Sir John (then Mr.) Robertson formed a new Administration, in which Mr. Garrett was Minister for Lands. This Ministry succeeded in carrying an amendment of the land laws, and Mr. Farnell, although in opposition, gave much useful assistance to the Government in passing the measure. From the 13th December, 1876 to the 11th October, 1877, he filled the position of Chairman of Committees, with much firmness and ability. For some years the reins of power were held alternately by Sir Henry Parkes and Sir John Robertson, until at length a feeling became prevalent in Parliament that it was time to try a change. Mr. Farnell was one who, in conjunction with Mr. Fitzpatrick, took an active part in the formation of what was known as the "Third Party." In August, 1877, a new Administration under Sir John Robertson took office, and met the House in the following September. Almost immediately an adverse motion was carried against them, in consequence of which a dissolution took place. The new Parliament met in November, and an amendment on the address, moved by Mr. Farnell, was carried. The Ministry thereupon resigned, and Mr. Farnell was called upon to form an Administration, which he succeeded in doing, and this Cabinet remained in office exactly one year and two days. A Land Bill, introduced by Mr. Farnell, was negatived by a large majority in December, 1878, and the Government resigned, having been refused a dissolution by the Governor. The coalition Ministry, in which Sir Henry Parkes and Sir John Robertson were associated, next came into power, and another unsuccessful attempt was made to amend the land laws by Sir John Robertson, as Minister for Lands. The defeat of this measure caused the resignation of the Government, and Mr. Alexander Stuart formed an Administration in January, 1883, with Mr. Farnell, who at this time represented New England, once more as Minister for Lands. Again the task was undertaken of unloading the Lands Act, and this time with success, for after a session of Parliament lasting for 13 months Mr. Farnell, who had exhibited rare patience and tact, and the satisfaction of passing into law the Land Act of 1884, which still remains the law of the land. In October, 1885, a dissolution having taken place just before, Mr. Dibbs became Premier, and Mr. Farnell took the position of Minister for Justice, with a seat in the Upper House. This office, however, he almost immediately resigned, and has not since been a member of any Government, in fact from that time he has taken very little part in Parliamentary affairs. At the last general election Mr. Farnell offered himself for the electorate of Redfern, and was returned as one of the members for that borough. It has been understood for some time past that his health was failing, and his attendance in the present Parliament has been very irregular.

Although the name of Mr. J. S. Farnell in regard to political matters was chiefly associated with the land question, he paid a fair amount of attention to subjects of a more general nature, and seldom permitted any question of great interest to pass without expressing his opinion. He tried hard for several years to pass a bill for the regulation of contagious diseases, but never succeeded in getting the bill through the Legislative Assembly. He was a staunch free-trader, and ever advocated the necessity for increasing the facilities for traffic throughout the country, both by railway and by road. It was largely due to his efforts that the Iron Cove and Parramatta River bridges were built, and he was always ready to advocate the construction of necessary public works. Outside of Parliamentary matters it was chiefly in connection with Freemasonry that Mr. Farnell was conspicuous. He originally belonged to the Irish Constitution of that Order, in which he attained the position of Grand Master. He subsequently took an active part in the formation of the Constitution of New South Wales, and became its first Provincial Grand Master. It will be remembered that the New South Wales branch of Freemasonry was not at first recognised by the English, Scottish, and Irish divisions. It must have been a satisfaction to Mr. Farnell, in his last days, to know that the recognition of the Australian branch, which he had so long advocated and predicted, took place at the meeting held at the Sydney University a few days since. In addition to his numerous Masonic distinctions, Mr. Farnell was some years ago offered the honour of knighthood, which, in common with Mr. W. B. Dalley, he declined. In social life Mr. Farnell was highly esteemed; his genial kindliness of disposition, as well as his personal probity, secured him the friendship even of those opposed to him in politics. He leaves a widow and 11 children, most of whom are grown up. Mr. Frank Farnoell, one of his sons, is representative of Central Cumberland in the Legislative Assembly.

The remains of the late Mr. Farnell will be buried at Ryde on Thursday. The funeral will start from the Masonic Hall, Castlereagh-street, at half-past 1 o'clock, and will be as a high Masonic character.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August 1888, p 9

Citation details

'Farnell, James Squire (1825–1888)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/farnell-james-squire-3499/text34351, accessed 17 September 2019.

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