1880-1883, 1896-1899

Born:      2 March 1841 (London, England).
Died:        2 September 1923 (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) aged 82 years. 

Parents:  Henry DAVIDSON and Caroline BLAKE
1 August 1878 (St. John's Church of England, Darlinghurst, New South Wales) to Amy Constance ASHDOWN 
Harrow 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 Brisbane.

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 "Alexandra".

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, pp69-71.

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Glen Hall


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