Friday 3 January 2014

Australia's First Millionaire

The remains of Australia's first millionaire are buried in Campbelltown's St Peter's Cemetery. James Tyson was born at the Cowpastures in 1819 and was one of eleven children, many of whom married locally and lived in Campbelltown. When James died he did not leave a will and his estate of over 2.3 million pounds was divided among about 30 nephews and nieces, several of whom lived in Campbelltown.

James Tyson had a reputation of being extremely frugal. When he was a boy on the family farm at Appin, his mother once gave him a flute as a birthday present only to find a few days later that he had sold it. Asked the reason the young Tyson explained: "I needed the money to buy a heifer because heifers can breed and flutes can't." He used the same philosophy of money-making all his life. He always boasted that his personal expenditure never exceeded a pound a week.

Later when he was worth an estimated five million pounds, someone tried to upset him by pointing out that his heirs would blow the lot when they got their hands on it. His reply was "If they have as much pleasure spending it as I did in getting it then that money won't be wasted." He was given the nickname Hungry Tyson, which clung to him even after death.

How did Tyson make his money? It started in 1852 when James and his brother set up a butcher's shop at the gold diggings at Bendigo. Within three years they had sold out, having made 80,000 pounds and they invested in grazing stations near Deniliquin. He began to expand his pastoral interests across the eastern colonies, overlanding cattle from Queensland, fattening them on his Riverina stations and then droving or railing them to Melbourne. When he died in 1898 he held about 9.6 million acres.

He also had a reputation for disliking women. A Sydney barmaid is alleged to have won a wager of 20 pounds by kissing him. She achieved this by catching him when he was looking the other way. He regarded women as "wasteful extravagant creatures". Tyson could not understand men "spending their time giggling at girls and multiplying children".

For all the tales about his meanness, there are just as many about his quiet generosity and silent kindness. He made significant donations to the building fund of the Sydney University Women's College and various Church of England charities.

On the morning of December 4, 1898, James Tyson was found dead in his bed at his sparsley furnished room at Felton Station on the Darling Downs in Queensland. He was buried in Toowoomba, Queensland, but reinterred in St Peter's cemetery in 1901.

Written by Andrew Allen


Fowler, Verlie 1983
A Stroll through St Peter's Churchyard
Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society: Campbelltown

Daily Mirror, October 19, 1977 p58

Sunday Telegraph, April 20, 1986, p142

Liston, Carol 1988
Campbelltown: The Bicentennial History

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