James Lilly (1845-1905) was born in Launceston, Tasmania. In 1869 he sailed for Victoria, where he married Hannah Dillon of Hawthorn. He established himself as a shipping agent at Port Fairy.
Lilly later looked west and saw opportunities in WA’s isolation. In 1876 he negotiated a lucrative WA Government subsidy to provide a regular coastal shipping service to meet the mail steamers at Albany. The following year when he came to Fremantle in his steamer, the Rob Roy, he was already a man of considerable wealth and standing. Lilly quickly expanded his fleet before selling out to the Adelaide Steamship Company. He remained their manager.
In 1878 James Lilly established the first regular steamship service on the coast by placing the SS Rob Roy, in the charge of Captain Craig, on the run between Geraldton and Albany, with Fremantle as her headquarters. Lilly may be considered to be the pioneer of steamship services in this State. The Rob Roy was followed by the Otway, and in 1882 the Adelaide Steamship Company purchased those vessels and placed the South Australian, in charge of Captain Laurie, and the Victorian, in charge of Captain Lockyer, on a regular run from Fremantle to the eastern colonies. Hitchcock: 64.
Lilly co-founded the Fremantle Gas and Coke Company in 1895. He was involved in community affairs as a member of the Fremantle Hospital Board. Around Fremantle he was known as the 'father of WA shipping'. He built a vast Federation bungalow, Ivanhoe, overlooking Fremantle Prison. He also built the still-standing house at 247 High St before 1898: its first occupant was Ellen Lane, a boarding house keeper.
In later life Lilly's behaviour became increasingly erratic. Eventually he bought a bottle of strychnine from a pharmacist and took a fatal dose of the poison in a vacant block in Claremont, dying in agony. He is buried in Fremantle Cemetery at Anglican A 476.
James Lilly's gravestone
Seddon, George 2000, Looking at an Old Suburb: A Walking Guide to Four Blocks of Fremantle, UWAP: 60-61, 85-86.
Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.
Hutchison, David 2006, Fremantle Walks, Fremantle Arts Centre Press.
Fremantle Cemetery Heritage Walk, from which most of the text above and also the photograph of Lilly are taken.
Garry Gillard | New: 2 January, 2015 | Now: 30 May, 2018