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Cooper, whaler and innkeeper
Merriman practiced his trade while serving four years in a whaling ship. On his return to Sydney about 1850 he became the licensee of the Whalers' Arms at Millers Point, the Grafton Hotel and the Gladstone Hotel. He went into business with William Andrews, running regular shipping services between Sydney and New Zealand from 1852.
In the mid-1800s, Merriman was a founder of bêche-de-mer and pearl shell industries in the Torres Strait. He lived at Osborne House, Argyle Place. By 1866 he had bought an interest in the ship Telegraph for his eldest son William, and by 1869 he owned the Telegraph, the Metaris, and the Blue Bell . These latter two were both for the bêche-de-mer fishery. In 1869 Merriman gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the alleged kidnapping of natives from the Loyalty Islands that he had not visited the islands or employed islanders at his wharf but that he had engaged about 20 islanders at the Sydney Shipping Office for a whaling voyage in the Blue Bell.
He built the steamship Pearl in 1875.
Life in politics
James Merriman was an alderman on the Sydney City Council for Gipps Ward from 25 October 1867 until 13 May 1883. He was mayor in 1873, 1877 and 1878. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in October 1877; the Sydney Morning Herald noted in his obituary:
He was ill in bed at the time, and without one word from him in the shape of a speech in explanation of his political principals, the electors returned him at the head of the poll. Few men have received such a mark of confidence. 
He held the seat until 1880, during which time he supported extension of the railways, reform of the land law, and a municipal bill providing increased endowment for the city. In 1878 he became a commissioner of the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879. He served as a trustee of Hyde, Phillip and Cook parks and as a transit commissioner.
Merriman died from heart disease and dropsy on 13 May 1883, and was buried in the old Church of England section at Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters, and left an estate valued for probate at over £51,000.
GJ Abbott, 'Merriman, James (1816–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 5, 1974, pp 242–243, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/merriman-james-4190/text6739, viewed 20 March 2012
City of Sydney Archives, aldermen's file, photos CRS 54/500, 54/510, 54/541 and 80/269; CRS 51/4825
Everard Digby, Australian Men of Mark, volume 1, Charles F Maxwell, Sydney, 1889
Shirley Fitzgerald, Sydney 1842–1992, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1992
AW Martin and P Wardle, Members of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales 1856–1901, Australian National University, Canberra, 1959
'The late Mr James Merriman', Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 1883, p 5