Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

MILLS, Sir James, K.C.M.G., Kt.

(1847–1936).

Pioneer shipowner.

A new biography of Mills, James appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

James Mills was born in Wellington on 30 July 1847, the third son of William Mills, a Customs officer who had been stationed at Dunedin, Auckland and Christchurch. He was educated at Alexander Livingstone's School at Dunedin, the first Otago Provincial Government school. He began employment with James Macandrew and Co., but after a year joined the firm of the famous “Johnnie” Jones, merchant and shipowner. Mills made rapid progress in his service and in 1866 was put in charge of the Universal Bond, and eventually was made responsible for all Jones's confidential work. In 1861 Jones bought an interest in the Golden Age, a small paddle steamer carrying passengers and cargo between Dunedin and Port Chalmers; and he formed the Harbour Steam Co. which extended its operations to small steamers in the coastal trade. In 1868 James Mills became responsible for running these steamers and, when Jones died in 1869, was appointed manager of the Harbour Co. In 1875 the Harbour Steam Co. owned three small steamers – the Beautiful Star (176 tons), the Maori (174 tons), and the Bruce (338 tons).

In the early seventies James Mills planned to form the Union Steam Ship Co., and a prospectus was drawn up and issued, but sufficient capital could not be raised locally. Consequently in 1874 he made a trip to London and there succeeded in interesting a syndicate which put up the money for building two steamers in Scotland, the Hawea (721 tons) and the Taupo (720 tons). From this modest beginning grew the Union Steam Ship Co., with James Mills as managing director. The first chairman of directors, Sir Geo. McLean, resigned in 1906 and was succeeded by Sir James Mills who carried on the dual position of chairman and managing director till 1913, when he retired from the latter position. He remained chairman of the board until his death.

Mills represented Waikouaiti in the Provincial Council from 1873 until 1875; and he was a member of Parliament for Port Chalmers from 1887 till 1893 when he retired. It would appear that politics were only a secondary interest to him.

In 1907 Mills was appointed by the Government of New Zealand to represent the Dominion at the Colonial Merchant Shipping Conference and in that year he received a knighthood; in 1909 he was created K.C.M.G. He was also a Knight of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

In 1871 Mills married Annabella, daughter of W. Langlands, of New Zealand, and, in 1888, Sarah Gertrude (Sadie), daughter of Francis George Fosbery, of Curraghbridge, County Limerick, Ireland. He had one son.

Sir James Mills died in England on 23 January 1936.

by George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.

  • Union Line – A Short History of the Union Steam Ship Co. of New Zealand Ltd., 1875–1951, Waters, S. D. (1952)
  • Otago Daily Times, 24 Jan 1936 (Obit).


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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