Dictionary of Sydney

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Oatley, James

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Oatley, James jnr

James Oatley was born on 16 April 1817 in Sydney, the second son of Staffordshire watchmaker and convict James Oatley and Mary Stokes. His father had arrived in Sydney with a life sentence on the Marquis of Wellington in January 1815. His mother and newborn older brother arrived free on the Northampton in June 1815.

From apprentice to gentleman

On 1 January 1839 the younger James Oatley married Eleanor Johnson at Sydney and they later had nine children. He was apprenticed to John Urquhart, a coachbuilder of George Street. After his father's death in 1839, Oatley inherited substantial property including a Cooks River grant his father received in 1833, the location of the family estate, Snugborough Park. From 1844 he was the licensee of the Sportsman Hotel on the corner of Pitt and Goulburn streets. He retired in 1852 to devote himself to public affairs. He was a horse owner and a subscriber to the Homebush races.

Oatley was commissioned as a Justice of the Peace. He was appointed to the Cooks River Road Trust in 1849, and was a member of the Australian Patriotic Association, and Officer of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Mayor and parliamentarian

James Oatley was alderman for Phillip Ward from 1 November 1852 until 31 December 1853 when the council was replaced by City Commissioners. He was re-elected unopposed for Phillip Ward, 11 April 1857 to 1 December 1867, and for Fitzroy Ward, 1 December 1868 to 1 December 1878. Oatley became a magistrate in 1859 and was elected mayor in 1862. Oatley was a Member of the Legislative Assembly, representing Canterbury, 15 November 1864 to 15 November 1869.

Following the death of his first wife Eleanor, Oatley married Margaret Curtis on 29 September 1870 at St Peter's church, Cooks River, and they had one daughter. He was an alderman on Paddington Council and mayor in 1876 and 1877. He was a Royal Commissioner on the Inquiry into Berrima Gaol in 1878.

Oatley died on 31 December 1878 at his Bourke Street home in Woolloomooloo and was buried at Camperdown Cemetery.


City of Sydney, Aldermen's File, photos CRS 54/524, 54/544, 44/67, 44/68

DJ Hatton, Mr Oatley, the celebrated watchmaker: the story of the Oatley family, DJ Hatton, Sans Souci, 1983

'Oatley, James (1770–1839)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, Melbourne University Press, 1967, pp 291–292, available online at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oatley-james-2514/text3399

State Records Office, Publicans Licenses Reel 1356

Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 1879, p 8, available online at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13428113