The Father of Ballarat: James Oddie (1824-1911)

Posted on: 11 June, 2020

While James Oddie is a name that will be familiar to many people due to his involvement in the founding of many of Ballarat’s charitable and cultural institutions, I wanted to focus on an aspect of his life that maybe not so well known, the creation of his newspaper, ‘The Corn Stalk’. The Australiana Research Collection has the only surviving edition of this newspaper.

James Oddie was born in Lancashire, England on 31 March 1824, the son of a retired innkeeper. James was a moulder, working in foundries and engineering firms. He migrated to Australia, arriving in Geelong on 29 June 1849. In 1851, gold fever brought him to the Ballarat region, firstly to Buninyong and then to Golden Point. He also mined on the goldfields of Mount Alexander and Bendigo but returned to Ballarat and opened a store.

In August 1857 James and his brother Thomas established their own newspaper ‘The Corn Stalk’. It was a monthly quarto of four pages edited by John Noble Wilson who had been involved in the establishment of ‘The Ballarat Star’ in 1855. ‘The Corn Stalk’ consisted mainly of advertisements and was used by the brothers to highlight their many business interests. In the ninth edition of the newspaper in April 1858, there appeared an article highlighting the benefits of a plentiful water supply for domestic and commercial use that existed in Yuille’s Swamp (Lake Wendouree) and Lake Burrumbeet. Not long after this, Wilson left the employ of the Oddies to establish commercial interests of his own and the newspaper ceased to exist.

Oddie is called the ‘Father of Ballarat’ because of his charitable achievements. He was the founder and patron of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. He served as Vice President of the School of Mines (SMB) and built and equipped the astronomical observatory. He also served on the board of the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum. He helped secure the loan of the Eureka Flag from the King family for the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. He also established the Ballarat Historical Records Society, which may have been the first historical society in Australia at the time of its inception.

James died on 3 March 1911 at age 86. When he died, the writer Bella Guerin wrote a tribute to him in poetry, which was published in The Ballarat Star. It starts:
“Forth from our midst has passed a spirit great, Of lofty aims and aspirations pure; Long may his memory in our hearts endure For such as he are born to mould the State.”

Read the full tribute here.

James Oddie and his wife Mary, together with James’ widowed mother Margaret, are buried at Ballarat New Cemetery. The location of the grave is Area Private D, Section 09, Grave 25-26.

Here is a link for a full biography of James Oddie. Click here.

James Oddie was a lifelong friend of Peter Lalor and was responsible for the Lalor statue in Sturt Street. Here is a link to a letter he wrote to the Editor of the Ballarat Star on the 48th anniversary of Eureka Stockade. Click here.

Simon Jacks
Australiana Research Collection
Ballarat Research Hub at Eureka (BRHAE)

‘The Corn Stalk’, April 1858, second ed., Ballarat, Australiana Research Collection
‘The Corn Stalk’, April 1858, second ed., Ballarat, Australiana Research Collection
‘The Corn Stalk’, April 1858, second ed., Ballarat, Australiana Research Collection