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James Paul (Jim) Whelan (1864–1938)

from Herald

Mr James Paul Whelan, "Whelan the Wrecker," who won fame with his demolition of city buildings, died today in a private hospital, aged 73.

In nearly 45 years in the wrecking business, he pulled down thousands of buildings in the city and suburbs, some of them being the second set of buildings on the same site that fell before his gangs.

It is estimated that 98 per cent. of the larger buildings that have been demolished within the last 40 years in Melbourne to make way for city expansion fell to "Whelan the Wrecker."

In his career he had dozens of narrow escapes from injury and death. Once he fell 45ft. from the front of the National Mutual building, suffering injuries that gave him a limp for the rest of his life.

When a brick kiln he was wrecking collapsed he was buried under the fall of bricks. Another time a roof fell in on him. To be hit on the head by a falling brick was no new experience to him.

Up till the time he fell from the National Mutual building, he had had his life insured, but when he discovered that conditions were to be attached to the renewal of his policy he decided to carry on in the wrecking business without insurance.

His biggest wrecking job was the demolition of the Yarra Bend Asylum, which included a group of 83 buildings and which kept a gang employed for 18 months.

At times, he wrecked practically the whole of a city block, one example being his demolition of the site from Manchester Unity Building, along Swanston Street to Little Collins Street and down that as far as Howie Place.

The first buildings he pulled down were blocks of houses in East Brunswick, built during the land boom at the end of last century, and never occupied.

At the time of his death his firm, now known as Whelan the Wrecker Pty. Ltd., had about 100 men engaged on pulling down buildings, the largest being Anzac House and Rubieras Hotel.

He is survived by a widow and three sons and three daughters. The funeral will take place at the Melbourne General Cemetery tomorrow.

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Citation details

'Whelan, James Paul (Jim) (1864–1938)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 June, 1864
Stawell, Victoria, Australia


2 March, 1938 (aged 73)
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.