Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

Search the Guide

To find information in this Guide please select one of the green coloured options.

To Select a Page Group when displayed, right click and select 'Open'.

Copyright Conditions Apply.

CARSTAIRS, James Grafton (1827-1904)

CARSTAIRS, Dr. James Grafton (1827-1904)

Dr James Grafton Carstairs was among the founders of Geelong College, as treasurer of the first Geelong College Committee of Management in 1861.

The Geelong Advertiser newspaper in January 1904 reported his death.
'It will be learned with general regret that the death occurred at his residence, Retreat-road, Newtown, yesterday morning, of Dr. James Grafton Carstairs, M.D., at the ripe age of 77 years. With his demise is removed a conspicuous figure from medical circles and a much esteemed citizen from a community amongst whom he had resided for half a century. He was a gentleman of sterling character, and was greatly respected in all circles, as much for his professional skill as for his other fine qualities. When he applied himself to his profession more closely in years gone by, the deceased gentleman had the largest practice in the town. Some twenty years ago he turned his efforts in the direction of the study of public hygiene, and followed out this branch of his profession right up to the time of his death.

The first indication of his health failing occurred several months ago, when he fell in a fainting fit at Newtown, and since then he never regained his former good health. Under medical treatment, however, he was able to potter about quietly in connection with his duties as health officer in the town, but again in October he grew very weak and was confined to the house. The weakness arose from heart trouble, and about three weeks ago dropsy manifested itself. These new symptoms disappeared, however, under treatment by Dr. Small, and the patient's condition somewhat improved, so much so, in fact, that he even undertook the tedious task of compiling the meteorological statistics for 1903, and successfully completed it. On Tuesday evening he again plunged into statistics, and retiring to bed at an early hour spent a rather restless night. At 7 a.m. yesterday, the doctor partook of a cup of tea and some light food, and when next observed at 8 o'clock was sleeping calmly. At about 9 o'clock, however, Mrs. Carstairs' attention was attracted by her husband's, remarkable stillness, and on examination she was grieved to find that he had quietly slept to death. The end was very peaceful, and befitted so splendid a career.

James Grafton Carstairs was the son of Surgeon W. Carstairs, of the Honorable East India Company's Service, and he was born at Poonah, Bombay Presidency, India, on June 28th, 1827. At the early age of three he was sent to Scotland to be brought up under the care of his grandfather, then town clerk and provost of Cupar, county town of Fife. He received the groundwork of his education at Madras College and University, St. Andrew's, East Fife, and afterwards remained three years at the Edinburgh University, where he took the diploma L.R.C.S., Edin., and the degree of M.D., Edin. He gained considerable professional experience through visiting the hospitals of Paris and London. For some little time he was assistant to Dr. Gardiner, of Perthshire, and then entered the Immigration service in 1851. His first passage to Australia was in the sailing vessel Isle of Skye, 330 tons, which arrived off Point Henry on December 12th, 1852. He returned to London in the ship Melbourne, and sailed for Geelong again in the ship Lady Peel.

Dr. Carstairs first commenced the practice of his profession in February, 1854, in a four-roomed cottage in Moorabool-street, having to pay the heavy sum of £4 per week for rent. He built up a very large practice, and in 1870 accepted the appointment of health officer to the Shire of Bellarine. He was elected to a similar position in the Borough of Newtown and Chilwell in 1884, and on January 28th, 1889, succeeded Dr. Walshe as health officer of the Town of Geelong. In 1857 Dr. Carstairs married a daughter of the late Hon. W. P. Weston, then Premier of Tasmania, but Mrs. Carstairs died three years later. His second wife was a daughter of Mr. John Smith, of the Geelong post-office.

Since 1881 he had devoted his attention chiefly to public health matters, his statistical information and reports on various subjects being considered by his professional brethren to be models of scientific research. The deceased gentleman leaves a widow and two grown-up sons, one of whom is engaged in agricultural pursuits in New South Wales, while the other (Captain H. G. Carstairs) has settled in South Africa, where he occupies a high position in the Law department of the Transvaal. Yesterday the corporation flag, and flags on various buildings were flown half-mast high, out of respect to the deceased gentleman, whose remains will be interred on Saturday.'

The first marriage of Dr Carstairs was beset by tragedy. Hobart’s Courier newspaper reported this first marriage in December 1857:
'On the 2nd instant, at Perth, by the Rev. Alfred Stackhouse, M.A., James Grafton Carstairs Esq., M.D., of Geelong, to Aimee Weston, third daughter of the Hon. W. P. Weston, Esq., of Hythe, Longford, (Tasmania).' She died, aged 25 years, three years later on 28 June 1861 following the birth of her son, James, and was interred at the Western Cemetery, Geelong on 30 June 1861. Their son, James Carstairs, died on 20 February 1862 and their daughter, also Aimee Weston Carstairs, died of diphtheria on 25 November 1863. He remarried on 14 September 1864 at St Paul’s Church, Geelong to Mary Caroline Hacon Smith, daughter of J H Smith of Autumn St, Geelong.

James Grafton Carstairs died on 12 January 1904 and was interred at the Western Cemetery on 16 January 1904, aged 77 years. (Geelong Cemetery records record his age as 74 years). His second wife, Mary Caroline Carstairs, was also interred at the Western Cemetery on 25 April 1936, aged 90 years (listed at Margaret in the Geelong Cemeteries Index).

His sons, William Carstairs (1858-1874), James Graham Carstairs (1865-1884), Alfred Wooley Carstairs (1867-1912), and Harold Grafton Carstairs (1875-1943), were all educated at Geelong College.

Sources: The Courier (Hobart) 4 Dec 1857 p2 (NLA); Geelong Advertiser 29 June 1861 p2 (NLA); Geelong Advertiser 22 February 1862 p1; Geelong Advertiser 26 November 1863 p4 (NLA); The Argus (Melb) 17 September 1864 p4 (NLA); Geelong Advertiser 14 January 1904 p2 (NLA); Geelong Cemeteries Index.
© The Geelong College. Unless otherwise attributed, The Geelong College asserts its creative and commercial rights over all images and text used in this publication. No images or text material may be copied, reproduced or published without the written authorisation of The College.