Who Is James Boag?

Boag's Brewery
Image via Wikipedia

An element of Scotland brought to Australia by migrants in the nineteenth century was industrialisation. Inventiveness and innovation were special features of a homeland that was at the head of the industrial revolution. This month we look at one industry where the Scots had an influence – brewing.

A Scot owned and operated Melbourne’s McCracken City Brewery. Robert McCracken was a great innovator, being one of the first to install refrigeration at his brewery. His brewery, however, merged with the Carlton United Breweries – home of iconic brands such as Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught – in 1907. The focus of this article, however, is further south. We will take a look at the lives of two highly influential Scottish brewers from Tasmania – James Boag and his son, James Boag II.

James Boag senior was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire in about 1804. He emigrated to Australia with his wife Janet and four children in 1853. After three months in the Victorian goldfields, the Boag family moved to Tasmania. James II received his education in Launceston, and it is said that he had a natural flair for entrepreneurial thinking, as well as being a keen sportsman.

Both father and son were active in the Tasmanian brewing industry from their arrival onwards. Their first appointment was with the Cornwall Brewery, which they both left in 1878. James II went into partnership with John Glenwright at the Cataract Brewery, and his father became the licensee of the All Year Round Hotel.

In 1881, Charles Stammers Button established the Esk Brewery on the banks of the North Esk River in Launceston. Two years later, James II and his father took over the new brewery under the official partnership of J. Boag & Son. The name ‘The Esk Brewery’ was retained, although locals frequently referred to the establishment as ‘Boag’s Brewery’. The Tasmanian reported in February 1883 that ‘both members of the new firm are well and favourably known in the trade, and will no doubt secure a fair share of public support’.

The company’s initial output was seven hogsheads (1,670 litres). By 1887, this had increased to nearly 500 hogsheads, and the brewery employed 30 full time members of staff. In 1890, James I died in Melbourne at the age of 86. His body was returned to Launceston for a funeral service at St Andrew’s Church and, according a report in The Examiner, a very large crowd attended.

J. Boag & Son continued to grow as a brewing business, purchasing the Cornwall Brewery in 1898. James II was now the sole proprietor after the death of his father. Alongside his career as a brewer, James performed his military service in Launceston, and qualified for the Long Service Medal in 1910. In 1901, during the Federation celebrations, The Examiner reported that at midnight, ‘twenty-one guns boomed out the royal salute from the Launceston Artillery under Captain J. Boag’. We also know that James II was an active member of the Launceston Caledonian Society throughout this time.

James II passed away in 1919. Like his father, James II was well regarded by the people of Launceston. The Daily Telegraph reported that ‘a wide circle of friends will regret to learn of the death of Mr James Boag. He was a man keenly interested, though not perhaps altogether publicly, in the welfare of the city, and devoted much time to the development of sport. A widow, five sons and four daughters are left to mourn the loss of a devoted husband and father.’

James Boag III – who had been training at Tooth and Co.’s brewery in Sydney – took over operation of the business after the death of his father. The brewery continued to grow over the twentieth century, and today the Boag’s brewery employs over a hundred staff, creates over 45,000,000 litres of beer annually, and produces some of Australia’s most famous and popular beverages.

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