Horse-racing and angling down under

The Baton arrives in Australia today (31.10.2013), and although horse-racing and angling are not fixtures in the Commonwealth Games’ Calendar –  I think you’ll agree that this is an interesting Commonwealth story taking us from Northern Ireland to Tasmania via the University of Glasgow.

Ballyclare-born Sir James Wilson Agnew, who graduated MD from the University in 1839, became a physician and popular politician in Tasmania, elected Premier of Tasmania from 1886-87.

It was a letter from Arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin, then Governor of Tasmania (known as Van Diemen’s Land), which brought Agnew to the island. Although he did not obtain the post of private secretary, which he had sought, Agnew was appointed medical officer. He combined his professional medical practice with research publications in outlets such as the Australian Medical Journal and Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science until 1877, when he entered politics.

James Wilson Agnew (Photograph in Members of the Parliaments of Tasmania No. 174)

Outside of his career, Agnew also made significant contributions to various aspects of Tasmanian society. He was the first chairman of  the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and Botanical Garden, as well as president of the trustees of Hobart Public Library. On the social side of life,  Agnew was president of the Tasmania Racing Club and Tasmania Club.  A keen angler, he is reported to have “bore the entire cost of a shipment of English [sic] salmon ova, amounting to nearly £900, brought out under the personal supervision of the late Chief Inspector  of Fisheries of Ireland (Sir Thos. Brady)”, which was used to populate the lakes and rivers of Tasmania.

The local newspaper, The Mercury, announced his death as follows: “At an early hour on Friday morning, there passed away one who will be mourned throughout Tasmania – the Hon. Sir James Wilson Agnew  […]  – for 61 years connected with Tasmania.” [The Mercury, Hobart, Saturday 9 November 1901, p.3]

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