Even the mighty fall
AS HIS CREDITORS MET TO DISCUSS DIXON’S BANKRUPTCY, THEY DISCOVERED THAT HIS ACCOUNTS WERE A SHAMBLES AND THAT DIXON HAD OTHER HIDDEN DEBTS.
Coo-ee is a regular column highlighting events in Benalla’s history.
In the 1860s, James Dixon was the biggest fish in the north-east’s pool.
Ostensibly, he was a storekeeper in Ryley St, Wangaratta.
His real power lay in the fact that he was a financier and broker.
A farmer could approach him and borrow money for six months lent on the security of the farmer’s next crop or on the family farm.
Dixon also acted as a broker for Melbourne money.
Because of the massive power he exerted in the district, Dixon was one of the first candidates elected to the municipal council when the Shire of Wangaratta was incorporated in 1863.
He served as its Mayor from 1867 to 1870.
His urgings saw the establishment of Wangaratta Hospital in 1872.
By 1872, Dixon was also serving on the committee of the successful Wangaratta Athenaeum, a subscription library and club.
Dixon served on the Wangaratta Magistrates Court as a lay justice of the peace, but he was also highly litigious. He was often in court in his own right.
Dixon faced a vote of censure by the council in late 1867.
He had arranged for an all-expenses-paid trip to Melbourne for he and his wife to present an address from the borough council when the Duke of Edinburgh visited.
The all-expenses-paid trip cost the Wangaratta council an astounding $30,000.
By the early 1870s Dixon began diversifying his interests. He acquired a flour mill in North Wangaratta.
He also bought land near Wangaratta and erected a brewery that he soon sold for a profit.
He bought a farm at Greta and built a slaughterhouse as well.
By 1874, Dixon was serving on the Committee of Management for Wangaratta Recreation Reserve.
On the same committee was Henry Kett, a fiery publican who had been sued successfully because of his assault on Norton, a local solicitor, at a race meeting in 1869.
Kett had also successfully sued Dixon in 1869 over a bill of sale that he alleged had an underlying fraudulent transaction.
Even the mighty fall. As a recession bit hard in May 1874, Dixon’s business edifices collapsed leaving debts of $98,000.
Suddenly, advances given by him required immediate repayment.
Within the month, suicides began as naive farmers throughout the north east realised that they owed Dixon far more than they believed.
Through manipulation of their bills, Dixon had fraudulently increased their indebtedness.
As his creditors met to discuss Dixon’s bankruptcy, they discovered that his accounts were a shambles and that Dixon had other hidden debts.
Dixon thrashed and twisted to minimise his bankruptcy losses. He converted bills to his own use.
This resulted in fraud charges. Then came criminal charges of hiding property.
When Dixon sought his release from bankruptcy, he lied on oath about his assets.
He was not discharged, a decision that was upheld on appeal.
He also then found himself charged with perjury.
Eventually, Dixon, now a felon, was discharged from bankruptcy.
When he died in 1904, Dixon had re-accumulated assets of $1,692.
— John Barry, Coo-ee