James Brownlee

A biography of James Brownlee of Leichhardt NSW Australia born 1877 died 1954.


James Brownlee was born at 5.30 am on 5 April 1877, at Number 21 Portland Square in Hamilton, Scotland. At the age of three he left Scotland with his parents James Brownlee and Catherine Bell Duncan, along with his brother, Robert Duncan Brownlee. The family sailed for New Zealand and settled in Dunedin. James' first few years at school, were spent in Dunedin and in 1884 at the age of seven, the family moved to Australia, settling in John Street, Leichhardt. James' brothers, John Brownlee and William Somerville Brownlee were also born in Dunedin. Three other children were born in Sydney, Elisabeth Mary Somerville Brownlee, Thomas Duncan Brownlee and Christina (thought to also be Duncan) Brownlee.

James went to Kegworth School at Leichhardt, where he became Dux of the school. Soon after his father’s death in 1892, young James left school to help support his family. His early working career is not known, but he did work for a short period as a cooper, before helping his mother to run Wishaw Dairy. It is also said that he did spend some time working for Edward Chadwick, who had a small carrying business in Little George Street, Sydney.

On 5 July 1902, Catherine signed the dairy over to James by lease of personality. After this the dairy remained in his hands until the early fifties, when his son William Robert Brownlee took over.

James Brownlee married Emily Borley, who was born at Tenterfield, NSW on 25 June 1883. Emily was the daughter of William John Borley and Mary O’Neill. William John Borley was a registered Milk Vendor and lived at White Street, Leichhardt. He owned property at Leichhardt and Clarendon, NSW Mary Irene Brownlee, their first child was born at John Street, Leichhardt on 5 February 1905. Two years later, on 8 January 1907, their second child, James Brownlee was born.

William John Borley had purchased Lot 9, Section 5 in White Street, Leichhardt from Pietro Filippo Marich, for the sum of one hundred and eighty pounds on 2 April 1903. He then gave the property to Emily Brownlee on 30 July 1907. It was here that James and Emily built their first home.

On 25 August 1908, their third child, Emily Margaret Brownlee was born. Their fourth and fifth children were Alan Linyard Brownlee, born 10 July 1910, and Thomas Roy Brownlee, born 25 October 1912.

William John Borley purchased another block of land in White Street, next to James and Emily. He purchased this too from Pietro Filippo Marich, on 16 August 1912. About this time, James Brownlee became a director of the Milk Board.

On 19 September 1914, Emily gave birth to twins, William Robert Brownlee and Lila Jean Brownlee. The following year, however, was to be a tragic one for James and Emily. Their baby daughter Lila Jean died at the age of nine months and their son, Alan Linyard Brownlee, aged five years, died from blood poisoning.

Marjorie May Brownlee, was born on 4 August 1916. On 27 May 1918, Charles Frederick Brownlee was born and Jack Brownlee was born 31 December 1922. He only lived for five days, dying on 5 January 1923. James and Emily’s eleventh child, Nellie Elizabeth Brownlee, was born on 7 November 1923.

James was interested in trotters, and had a set of stables built, with a paddock between the house and the Whites Creek. Over the years he trained and drove the likes of “Pickedo”, “Enzed”, “Florabell”, and “Why Zed” – Jim wanted to call this one “Eggmont”, after the mountain in New Zealand, one of these was hit by a car and after that, was never any good.

William John Borley also had trotters, and he kept them either at the farm at Clarendon, or at the dairy in Leichhardt. He had “Milk Maid” and “Dairy Maid”. Walter Burns owned “Marcus Pride” and wanted to give him to James Brownlee, but James said that he would prefer to pay for him and offered Burns thirty pounds. Burns however, wouldn’t take the money, but said not to pay him until he won a race. Marcus Pride was a good horse and although unreliable, won many races.

James was also a very keen sailor. He was a member of the crew of  ‘Nimrod’ and sailed competitively. The ‘Nimrod’ was originally a twenty one foot yacht, but was cut down to eighteen foot to qualify as an eighteen footer. It was later re-named ‘Mascotte’. The 14 man crew travelled as far as Western Australia to race in contests.

Old Charlie (Charles Borley) was William John Borley’s brother. He used to come down from the property at Clarendon and stay with James and Emily at White Street. He used to sleep in the room under the house and not being the children’s favourite uncle, he was the prime target for their pranks. The kids had a habit of painting the windows of his room black, so Charlie would think it was still dark and he would sleep in. Charlie was a big man, tipping the scales at about eighteen stone and always had an appetite for lollies. Robert Duncan Brownlee (Bob) used to come down from Ourimbah to go with James to trotting meetings and when he came, he never failed to bring a jar of barley sugar for the kids. Trouble was, the kids often missed out when Charlie found the sweets, hence the dislike for poor old Charlie.

Yes, poor old Charlie, it seemed, was always the victim for pranks. Even the adults played their fair share on him, like when he used to camp up at The Entrance with the Brownlee’s. After a few beers one night Charlie fell asleep and it is said that the din of his snoring could be heard back at Ourimbah. Sick and tired of the noise, James and a few others tied him up, dragged him to the water’s edge and threw him into the lake.

Mind you, it wasn’t only Charlie that copped it. Once Louis Taylor was going over to New Zealand. He and Robert Duncan (Bob) Brownlee had a few beers and dozed off not long before the boat was due to leave. Jim Brownlee blackened both their faces and then let the Captain in on the joke. When Louis woke up, he said, “Louis, don’t tell Bob, I’ve blackened his face”, and of course when Bob woke up he said to him “Bob, don’t tell Louis, I’ve blackened his face“. When they found out what Jim had done you could imagine what they said.

During the mid 1930’s, James had an ice run in conjunction with his milk run. His trotters earned their keep of the track pulling his carts. On 20 July 1936, Marcus Pride won a trotting handicap at Harold Park which earned the following “write up” in the Sun on 22 July 1936,


It is remarkable the number of horses racing at Sydney meetings who earn a lot of their feed off the race courses.

Since the depression years some trainers with small teams have been forced to put their horses to uses other than racing.

When Marcus Pride, who draws an ice-cart in the summer months, won at Harold Park on Monday last it recalled several other instances in recent years.

Aerial Flight, who made his reappearance on Monday last after a spell, drew a butcher's cart around the Canterbury District; while Spark Plug, who is still racing, worked in a delivery van at Penrith.”

James lived at White Street until his death on 22 August 1954. After this William Robert Brownlee took over the milk run and trotters. The business stayed in Williams hands until his retirement in 198... Emily (Borley) Brownlee died 24 June 1959. The home at White Street was still owned by the family (in 1984). Sometime after William Robert Brownlee's death on 29 July 1995, the family home was sold. It was a sad ending for the home as squatters had taken up residence and much of the interior was vandalised. The house still stands as at 2007.



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