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McKERRAS, James Taylor (1827-1911)

McKERRAS, James Taylor (1827-1911)

J. T. McKerras was among the founders of Geelong College as a member of the committee convened to enquire into the feasibility of establishing a Presbyterian Grammar School in Geelong in April 1861. At the time he was a merchant in Geelong and an Elder of the Presbyterian Church. In the late 1850s he had been in business in Little Malop St, Geelong.

His name is usually spelt 'McKerras' in Geelong and during the early years in New Zealand, however his obituary, cemetery records and associated family names usually appear as 'Mackerras'.

Dunedin's Evening Star newspaper reported his death:
'Mr J. T. Mackerras, one of our retired merchants, died at on early hour this morning. He had been in feeble health for some time, owing to a weakness of the heart, and of late a throat affection troubled him, but he managed to get about until eight or nine days ago, and, in fact, attended the last meeting of the Dunedin Savings Bank trustees, and subsequently paid a visit to his old friend Mr R. Glendining. His last hours were peaceful, the throat giving no pain, and he seemed to die from old age.

James Taylor Mackerras was born at Granton, on the Firth of Forth, in September of 1827, and as a young man went to London for mercantile experience. He subsequently left for Victoria, and was in business at Geelong. In 1862 he came over to Otago, and restarted life as a merchant in Stafford street, Dunedin, his partner being the late Mr Thomas Brown, brother of Mr Wm. Brown, of this City. Mr Brown retired after a few years, and Mr Mackerras then carried on business on his own account. During this time he moved to Bond street.

In 1876 a partnership was started between Mr Mackerras and Mr James Hazlett, formerly of Clyde. This business grew to large proportions. Mr Mackerras retired a few years ago, but the business still goes on under the old title. Mr Mackerras was for a long time an active member of the Chamber of Commerce, and occupied the vice president’s chair for a while. He was also chairman of the Harbor Board, and took a prominent part in the graving dock scheme. His connection with Knox Church began very many years ago, and he was made an elder. Horticulturists will remember that he used to be famed as a rose-grower.

Altogether Mr Mackerras was a very prominent figure in Dunedin. He was an energetic man, full of initiative, strong-willed, a staunch admirer of the Highlanders from whom he descended, and a firm friend to those who knew him. He leaves, to comfort his widow, one son and five daughter's. The flags at the Harbor Board offices and on several business houses were half-masted to-day as soon as the news of the death got about.'

He also held Directorships in various companies including the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand and National Fire and Marine Insurance Company of New Zealand.

In April 1860, James McKerras married in Melbourne: 'On the 5th April, at Hawthorne, Mr James T Mackerras of Geelong to Helen , second daughter of M. Jaffray Esq. Cawdor, Scotland.' The Geelong Advertiser newspaper later noted that James T McKerras, a Presbyterian Church Elder, had been present at the foundation laying stone ceremony for the Gheringhap St Presbyterian Church.

James Taylor McKerras, retired merchant of York Place, Dunedin and native of Granton, Scotland died on 17 November 1911 aged 84 years, and was buried at Dunedin's Northern Cemetery on 18 November 1911 (Block 127 Plot 18A). He had been in New Zealand for 49 years. His wife Helen, aged 88 years, died on 11 December 1926.

There were at least two other brothers in this far flung family. John Grant McKerras station manager of Glendarinwell near Clermont, Rockhampton and Thomas McKerras, resident of Wellington, New Zealand.

None of his children attended Geelong College.

Sources: Geelong Advertiser 24 April 1860 p3; Geelong Advertiser 10 July 1861 p3; Brisbane Courier 21 November 1868 p2; Daily Southern Cross 30 September 1873 p3; Auckland Star 11 February 1879 p3; NZ Mail 27 February 1885; Evening Star (Dunedin) 17 November 1911 p4: Dunedin Cemeteries Index.
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