Sir James Alexander MacKenzie Elder

Sir James Alexander MacKenzie Elder (1869-1946)

Businessman & Company Director

Location: Pres*P*65

A native of Elgin, Scotland and educated locally with eyes set on a career in law before deciding to migrate to Victoria in 1891. Elder soon entered the business world. While working for the “Australian Mortgage (Mercantile), and Finance Co”, he met John Cooke (1852-1917) who in 1895 founded the firm “John Cooke Pty Ltd” (534 Collins Street, Melbourne) that went on to become one of Australia’s biggest exporters of meat in the early 1900s; Elder’s fortunes prospered with that of the company and served as managing director after Cooke’s death. 

Labour shortage problems, higher wages, and rising transport and fuel costs brought on by the First World War led to the demise of the once mighty company in 1924; Elder was criticised for lacking the entrepreneurial and organisational flair of its founder. Another reason may have been Elder’s unstinting commitment to trade matters as an adviser to the Federal Government. His sound business knowledge resulted in his appointment in 1914 to the Commonwealth Board of Trade representing the Associated Chambers of Commerce during which he energetically promoted Australian companies in Britain and later the United States of America throughout the 1920’s. As commissioner for Australia in the United States (1924-26) he travelled widely throughout the country taking advantage of the wireless; in recognition of his services he was knighted in 1925. Described as “tall, well built with silver-grey hair”, Elder served on the boards of a number of firms including the National Bank of Australasia (1932-43). 

He resided at Mayfair – Marne Street, South Yarra and died on 30 May 1946 aged 76.

ADB Volume 8 1891-1939 (Cl-Gib).
The Argus 24 February 1924, 3 June 1925 & 31 May 1946.
The Age 31 May 1946.

(Image by permission of the National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an6479888)