Samuel James ‘Sam’ Phillips was a grandson of WA’s first surveyor-general, John Septimus Roe, through his mother Sophia and father, Samuel Pole Phillips. His father, one of WA’s early cattle kings, was a pastoralist and politician who arrived in WA in 1839 after whom Phillips River, in the Goldfields, is named.
Sam was born in Perth in 1855. Educated at Bishop’s (Hale) School, as a young man he worked on his father’s property, The Grange at Yardarino in the Irwin District south of Geraldton, and took control of it in 1880. In 1882 Sam (27) was elected to the Irwin Roads Board, and became its chairman in 1883. By 1885 he was a JP and in 1890, soon after Responsible Government was established, entered politics. He was the first Member for Irwin and served for 15 years.
In 1885, in partnership with his younger brother John, he acquired the 100,000 acre (around 40,500 Ha) Jimba Jimba sheep station on the Gascoyne River, and in 1887 established the 400,000 acre (165,000 Ha) Mt Augustus and Mt James cattle stations.
Later, Sam had a partnership in Fraser Range Station on the Western Nullabor Plain, where he raised sheep, and owned Yandanooka near Mingenew, where he raised horses and cattle. He and his business partners, Isadore and Sydney Emanuel, also owned much of the land along the Midland Railway. When the railway was constructed across Sam’s land, he subdivided the 100 acres around Mingenew Springs into 156 town blocks and roads. This was the first privately subdivided land in WA and is now the town of Mingenew.
The Grange, Yardarino, c2004. Courtesy Irwin Shire Council.
Sam was one of the most prominent pastoralists in WA, and known for quality breeding, with his beef supplied to Perth and Fremantle as well as to the British government. Though well known for his kindly disposition, he never married, and lived at The Grange until around 1918 when declining health forced his retirement to Perth. He died in 1920, aged 64, and was buried at the family cemetery near Culham homestead, Toodyay.
His immense estate was left to his nephews. The Grange, the jewel in the crown, had only three subsequent owners to 2006: the Mitchell family (from 1923), the Dempster family (from 1954), and John Roberts (from 1987). It sold in January 2018 for $32 million.
What, Where and When
Sam owned a number of cars, all of similarly large capacity like this 1907 Clement-Talbot, purchased from the Armstrong Cycle and Motor Agency in the weeks before Christmas 1907.
“It is fitted with Cape hood and glass screen. Lucas separate generator head lamps; speedometer and distance register, and is coach-painted Talbot red. The appointments are very luxurious, and the car is almost absolutely quiet in running.”
Western Mail, 21 December 1907
Sam is the stoutly-built gentleman in the rear left seat, rather harshly described in The Sun of 16 February 1908 as “a gouty, obese, uninteresting ancient with a double chin,” whose immense wealth made him “worthy of veneration.”
Sam’s father was a founding member of the Weld Club in 1871, and Sam joined as a young man in 1883. When in Perth he likely stayed at the Club at 3 Barrack Street, outside the front entrance of which this photograph was taken in mid-December 1907. The men are all warmly clothed as, in the middle of that month, Perth had an unusually chilly average of just 23℃.