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Ham, Cornelius Job (1837–1909)

The death occurred early this morning at his residence "Lalbert," Orrong road Armadale, of Alderman Cornelius Job Ham, ex-M.L.C., one of the best known of Melbourne's citizens. Mr. Ham had been ailing for about 15 months; for the last two months he has been practically at death's door. Yesterday he had a severe attack of heart trouble to which he succumbed early this morning. Drs. Charles Bage and David Grant were in constant attendance, but for the past few days held out small hopes for Mr. Ham's recovery.

Since 1853, Alderman Ham carried on business in Swanston street as a land and estate agent upon the site now occupied by the firm of which he was the senior partner. Fifteen months ago he ceased to take an active part in the business owing to ill-health and increasing years. He was the youngest son of the late Rev. John Ham, first pastor of the Collins street Baptist Church, and was born on January 11 1837 at Birmingham. When he was five years old his father decided to emigrate, and the family arrived in Melbourne in 1842. There was no railway or train from Port Melbourne in those days. Port Melbourne was called Liardet's Beach. A bush track led to the punt which plied where now stands Prince's-bridge. "When we came," said Mr. Ham, in the course of an interview last year, "the streets had all been mapped out and were fairly well built on as far as Spring street. There was a primitive Government office on Batman's Hill, where the Spencer street railway station is now. Batman himself had just died. Melbourne had just been created a town by charter from Sydney. Mr John Condell was the first mayor."

Into this primitive place came the emigrant family from busy Birmingham. Mr. Ham's father started a school in connection with the Baptist Church to teach the aborigines who were all about Melbourne. He preached too, in the Mechanics' Institute, which stood where the Atheneum stands now. And young Cornelius went to school with his brothers, Thomas, Jabez, and Theophillis, in a school whose ancient site is now occupied by The Argus office.

Gold was discovered in 1851, and Melbourne grew in a few magic years from a town to a city. The price of land rose— everybody had land to sell or land to buy when once the great fields were in full swing. He purchased property from the executors of Batman, the original holder of the Crown grant, and his name was further identified with the early Australian history as one of Fawkner's executors. For over half a century Mr. Ham watched Melbourne spread, and sold land and houses in the same Swanston street office. Blocks which were sold for £20 in the year he was born he sold himself for £92,000. He sold land in the early part of his career for a few pounds a foot, which he sold again for as many hundreds. As the business grew he felt the need of help, and in 1867 took his brother, Mr. Theophilus Ham, into partnership with him. Next year he was married to Miss Latham, of West Virginia, sister of General A. R. Latham, at that time consul for the United States.

Mr. Ham's elder brother published in 1850 the first monthly paper in Melbourne. It was known as Ham's Magazine, and numbered amongst its list of distinguished contributors Sir William A'Beckett, the Rev. Alexander Morrison, Mr W. Westgarth and Mr R. R. Haverfield who was for many years editor of the Bendigo Advertiser. The paper was strongly influenced by Mr Cornelius Ham and the other brothers and fought hard for better harbour facilities for the growing city. It advocated a canal from Sandridge [Bendigo] to Melbourne and was generally a strong supporter of any canal project that was mooted, going out of its way to urge the construction of two canals, one of which is now completed (the Suez) and the other in course of completion across the isthmus of Panama. The magazine fought hard for the progress of Melbourne. It was illustrated by steel, copper and lithographic engravings, several of which Mr Ham had framed, and which now stand in the Swanston St office. The most notable one is that of the opening of the Prince’s Bridge in November, 1850, engraved by Mr Ham’s brother, Thomas, from a sketch by Mr W. Strutt. Mr Jabez Ham, another brother, was one of the first editors of the Age newspaper, one of the founders being Mr. Henry Cooke, who married one of Mr. Ham’s sisters.

In 1870 a proposal was mooted in the City Council to make a road through the Carlton gardens. The Council was divided upon the subject, and many indignant letters from the citizens of Melbourne appeared in the press, which almost unanimously objected to the proposal. Mr Ham contested the seat of Councillor A. K. Smith upon the issue of the preservation of the parks, and won handsomely. He was elected for Latrobe Ward, and held the seat for nine years as a councillor. After this period he was elected an alderman for the same ward, and retained the position until his death. For many years he has been a justice of the peace for the Central Bailiwick. At the time of the inauguration of the movement of the Working Men’s College in Latrobe St, by Mr Francis Ormond, Mr Ham was mayor of Melbourne. In that capacity he was able to do a great deal for the movement, and worked hard for the establishment of the college. For many years he was a member of the council for the college. He was also one of the directors of the Metropolitan Gas Company, chairman of the London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Company, and of the Citizens’ Life Assurance Company. He has held the positions of president and vice-president of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and was also a trustee of the Victorian Baptists’ Fund since its inception, but about two months before his death resigned this position on account of his illness. He was president of the Baptist denomination when the fund was first started, and will be tremendously missed by the church, of which he was a leading and enthusiastic member.

In civic matters he fought early and late for progress, for sanitation and preservation of the open spaces of the city. He loved the city which he had seen grow from almost its earliest infancy and his love was expressed in working for it. When the proposals of the Tramway Company were before the council he advocated and supported the arrangement which was adopted—that the municipalities should construct the tramways and that at the expiry of the 30 year lease the company should hand them back to the councils of the districts through which they ran. He fought for the scheme at the municipal conference appointed to deal with the question and earned his point against a good deal of opposition.

For almost 40 years he sat as a member of the City Council without once having to contest his seat and he for 22 years represented Melbourne in the Victorian Legislative Council. He resigned from the latter at the inception of federation.

In 1882, with all his responsibilities, he took upon himself one more. He became a candidate for a seat in the Legislative Council for Melbourne, and won the suit against the late Mr George Coppin and the late Dr Beaney. He beat Dr Beaney by 107 votes, and Mr Coppin by 622. In the Munro Ministry (1890) he accepted the office of a Minister without a portfolio. He retired from the Council in 1901.

Mr Ham was the father of six daughters and three sons. His eldest daughter married Mr A. J. Arnott, the first chief electrical engineer of the City Council. Mr and Mrs Arnott are now in Sydney. The second daughter married the well known Melbourne physician and surgeon, Dr Francis H. Langlands, and the fourth is the wife of Dr A. G. Meares. The three youngest are still unmarried, and were at home with Mr Ham when he died. Besides these daughters there was another who died.

Mr Frank L. Ham, his eldest son, is at present in the Swanston street business. Mr Rupert Ham is with the firm of Messrs James Bell and Co grain merchants, Queen street, and Mr Wilbur Ham is a member of the Melbourne bar.

The funeral arrangements will be an announced in the Herald this evening.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Ham, Cornelius Job (1837–1909)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/ham-cornelius-job-3905/text24171, accessed 13 December 2017.

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