Dalton, James (1834–1919), Irish-Australian merchant and pastoralist, was born 24 May 1834 at Duntryleague, Co. Limerick, third child of James Dalton, farmer, and his first wife Ellen (née Ryan). While Ellen was pregnant with James, his father assisted in the failed kidnapping of a widow to coerce her into marrying his brother-in-law. He was found guilty of assisting the abduction and sentenced to death, commuted to seven years' transportation to Australia. He left Ireland in 1836 aboard the Hive which ran aground off New South Wales (NSW). Indigenous people helped survivors before rescue ships arrived from Sydney. Little is known of young James's early life in Ireland or when his mother died. Siblings Thomas (born 25 April 1829) and Margaret (born 28 November 1831) went to America while James stayed at home.
James Dalton senior served seven years with Scottish settler Archibald Campbell near Bathurst, NSW, then was granted ticket-of-leave on 22 April 1842. He started a carting business and in 1847 became a storekeeper at Summerhill near Orange. He heard his wife had died and petitioned the government for his children to join him. James junior arrived in Sydney on the Panama on 14 September 1849, aged 15, and joined his father in Orange where they built a bark-roofed shop. James senior obtained a liquor licence in 1851 and married Tipperary woman Johanna Hogan; they had six children.
In 1851 gold was found near Orange commencing Australia's first gold rush. The Daltons were ideally placed and James junior established a reputation for providing whatever was needed by prospectors, accepting gold in barter. In 1853 he struck out alone in a small shop while his father became a publican. James junior built up and extended the shop, working on construction when there were no customers. It became the grandest department store in western NSW, selling haberdashery, agricultural machinery, wines, spirits and British goods.
His brother Thomas arrived in NSW in 1853 and combined with James to set up the Dalton Bros. Stores in 1858. James married (1858) Margaret Mary Collins (born 1830 in Glasgow), the eldest child of Orange innkeepers John and Jane Collins.
Business prospered as the Daltons' Elizabethan-frontage store opened. They purchased a coffee mill to roast and grind beans on a commercial scale, and in 1866 opened Orange's largest flour mill, becoming the largest wholesale distributor west of Sydney. They shipped flour to England where it fetched premium prices, and also handled wool, which growers exchanged for supplies. Their sister Margaret and her Irish-American husband Michael Casey left America at the end of the civil war to join her brothers. James senior died on 1 January 1865, before the siblings were reunited.
James became deputy captain of Orange's first volunteer fire service in 1865, and an officer of the district hospital in 1866. He was elected to council in 1868, becoming mayor in 1869 and fire brigade captain in 1870. The family built lavish townhouses such as 'Emly', 'Knocklong' and 'Bruff', named for places of their youth. James built the most impressive, 'Duntryleague' (1876–80), which cost £30,000 and had a vineyard, distillery, orchard and fowl yard. Land acquisitions followed: 'Ammerdown' (1878), 'Kangaroobie' (1881) and later 'Adare' and 'Look Out'. The properties ran shorthorn cattle and 40,000 sheep.
On 9 December 1874 James turned the first sod on the railway to Orange, and Thomas was town mayor when the railway arrived in 1877. The Daltons expanded into Sydney where Thomas managed an import agency. They built stores in Fort Street and a wharf and warehouses at Miller's Point. James was a philanthropist, building houses for mill workers and opening Duntryleague garden for free supplies of fruit and vegetables. He also built Orange's Australian Hall in 1884.
He remained a staunch Irish nationalist and a prominent supporter of John Redmond (qv) and William Redmond (qv) on their 1883 visit to Australia to raise funds for the Irish National Land League. The Redmonds had arrived during the Phoenix Park murder trials which implicated the Land League. Newspapers accused them of disloyalty and collecting for a 'murder fund', and they were refused permission to use halls in many towns. Dalton welcomed the Redmonds to Duntryleague, presided over a meeting in Orange, and became president of the new Orange branch of the Irish National League. According to the Western Advocate, the founding meeting praised John Redmond's 'resolute resistance to the oppressive proceedings of a foreign senate'. John Burns MP told Sydney's parliament that Dalton had spoken of the British government as foreign and his language was disloyal. Premier Alexander Stuart asked Dalton if newspaper accounts that he had signed a 'seditious address of welcome' were accurate and declared that, if so, he should resign as a magistrate. Dalton replied that he had done nothing against his oath of fealty and refused to resign. Stuart dismissed Dalton, his brother-in-law Michael Casey, and another Irish magistrate, Patrick Burke.
Dalton's half-sister Johanna, aged 21, married John Redmond on 4 September 1883; the wedding reception was held at Thomas Dalton's Sydney home. They had three children, Josephine, William and Emily. Johanna died six years later.
James and Margaret Dalton had twelve children, six boys and six girls, producing twenty-three grandchildren. His eldest daughter, Eleanor (1863–1947), married William Redmond in London in 1886. They lived in Dublin and had one child, John, who died in infancy. After William died in the first world war, Eleanor lived in England and Italy and died in Australia. Another daughter, Rose Dalton (1879–1962), also married, in 1908, an Irish nationalist parliamentarian, William McKillop, MP for Sligo North (1900–06) and Armagh South (1906–7), who died the following year. Dalton's second son, James Joseph (1861–1924), gained a legal degree at Dublin University, and was MP for Donegal West (1890–92), the first Australian-born Westminster MP.
In 1890 James and Thomas Dalton split their business, with Thomas looking after Sydney interests. He became an MP and his daughter Blanche married businessman Sir Mark Sheldon. Thomas died in 1901. James stayed in Orange as a leading light in the catholic community. He received a papal knighthood in 1877, and his proudest moment was as a mitre bearer when Cardinal Patrick Moran (qv) unveiled the foundation stone on extensions to St Joseph's church, Orange, on 5 May 1897. James's wife Margaret died on 19 January 1904, aged 65. James Dalton himself died at Duntryleague on St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1919, aged 84. His life represented a remarkable transformation from a teenage orphan in Ireland during the famine to running a large retail empire in Australia. His lifelong Irish nationalism cost him Australian honours but gained him a dynastic alliance with Ireland's politically powerful Redmond family.
The value of his estate was £73,154 with £34,517 in shares and £23,800 in property. Most went to his family with donations to the hospital, church, mission funds and catholic orphanage. The youngest son, Jesuit priest Patrick Joseph (1881–1951), inherited Duntryleague, but the local bishop refused permission for the Jesuits to enter his parish. The building became a guesthouse and is now the home of the Orange golf club.
Eldest son Thomas Garrett ('Gatty') Dalton (1859–1911) succeeded his father in managing the store, and became mayor of Orange (1903–6). The business was managed by two other sons, Edward Bede ('Dick') (1874–1919) and Michael Francis ('M. F.') (1870–1944), before Western Stores and Edgley's Ltd purchased it in 1928, with M. F. remaining as director.