2 March 1841 (London, England).
September 1923 (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) aged 82 years.
Parents: Henry DAVIDSON and Caroline BLAKE
Marriage: 1 August 1878 (St. John's Church of England, Darlinghurst,
New South Wales) to Amy Constance ASHDOWN
School and Oxford College, England.
John Ewen Davidson was born in
London the son of Henry Davidson and Caroline nee Blake. His father was a
merchant and came from the Scottish Davidson Clan associated with
Tulloch Castle in Scotland. He was educated at where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1862. He
was also a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club in London and
played one first class match in 1864.
He visited the West
Indies and British Guiana before coming to Australia in 1865. He left
Southhampton on 20 April 1865 and travelled by ship via the Suez
Canal and arrived in Sydney, NSW on 29 June 1865. After arriving
later in Queensland he made arrangements seeking pioneer Queensland
sugar planter Captain Claudius Whish and visiting his farm at
Caboolture to see how he grew sugar in Queensland conditions.
Davidson was well cridentialled in aristocratic circles and dined
with both Governor George Bowen and Premier Robert Herbert whilst in
He began as a sugar
planter at Rockingham Bay north of present day Cardwell in 1866 but the
endeavour was a disaster so he moved to Mackay in 1867 and in partnership with
Thomas Henry Fitzgerald owned a cotton and sugar plantation known as
The next year they had the
first major mill in Mackay built proving sugar production as viable in the
Mackay district and started the first sugar boom. Davidson was heavily
involved in finding new varieties of sugar cane and methods of production and
visited many other areas in the world in the next thirty years.
Of his scientific exploits, he
collected Aboriginal artefacts for the British Museum , discovered a new species
of plum tree and identified the first comet discovered by anyone in Queensland
with his own telescope.
He was chairman of the Mackay
Planter's Association in 1878-1883 and lobbied for improving Mackay's harbour
facilities eventually becoming a member of the Mackay Harbour Board.
From about 1881 he became a
partner in the Melbourne firm of W. Sloane & Co. which was heavily involved
in investing in the Mackay sugar industry. It became the Melbourne Mackay
Sugar Company in 1882 with Davidson managing six mills and estates provided with
modern and expensive equipment.
Davidson was a staunch advocate
of retaining coloured labour in the Queensland sugar industry arguing that the
abolition of South Sea Islanders would lead to the collapse of the sugar
industry. Increasing restrictions forced him to ely on Asian coolies more and
more for the labouring work.
Following the collapse of the
Queensland sugar industry in 1888, Davidson testified to the royal commission
into the industry that four of the six of his company's estates were idle. He
sought protection to protect the fledgling Queensland industry from European
bounty-fed beet sugar.
With the approach of Federation
, the imminent collapse of the indentured labour for the cane industry and
introduction of the Government sponsored Central Mills saw the eventual break-up
of the large sugar estates.
About 1900 he retired to
England with his family and died at his Oxford home on 2 September 1923.
John Oxley Library, Queensland.
Kerr, John. (1980). Pioneer
Pageant. Mackay, QLD: Pioneer Shire Council.
Mills, J.A., 'Davidson, John Ewen
(1841-1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, Melbourne
University Press, 1981, p228.
, downloaded 2 March 2008
Wood, C.T., Sugar
Country - A Short History of the Raw Sugar Industry of Australia
1864-1964, Queensland Cane Growers Council, Brisbane QLD, 1965,
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