Born in this building in Kilwinning in 1823, James attended school locally and was a schoolmaster for a while in Saltcoats. After leaving teaching to recover from TB, he entered business life and became an agent for the Glasgow-based tea and coffee importing business, Thomas Corbett & Co, becoming a partner.
He emigrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1853, and seeing a business opportunity for himself, formed James Service and Company, importers and wholesale merchants. Among his many business interests, he became a prominent banker, and was a founding member of the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1866.
Service was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Melbourne in 1857 and between then and 1886, represented four different districts in Victoria, holding several Cabinet positions in State governments. With the failure of the governing party in 1883, he formed a new government, becoming the 12th Premier of Victoria. His government lasted three years and passed significant legislation.
He supported calls for the annexation of New Guinea, and guided a bill constituting a federal council through the Victoria parliament in 1884. He was also supportive of trade unionism, early shop closing and the eight hour day.
By the time of the 1886 election and in declining health, he retired from active politics. He died in his home, named 'Kilwinning' in honour of his birthplace, in 1899, leaving an ex-wife, a partner and several daughters. It was believed that twice he had refused the honour of a knighthood.
He is quoted as having "the respect of all parties, a successful business man, keen and farseeing, but also interested in matters such as philosophy, metaphysics, and political economy. In manner he was cautious and self-restrained, a man of large ideas and indomitable courage". The small, scattered community of Serviceton, named after him, lies just inside the Victoria/South Australia border. In 2006, its population was 377, most involved in the sheep, cattle and grain industries.
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