James Trackson's tracks : Queensland's first motorist

On 25 October 1937 Brisbane newspaper The Telegraph published a tribute to one of the city's most prominent citizens on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Eighty years old to-day and still hale and hearty, Mr. James Trackson, of Sedgley Grange, Newmarket, looks back on a life filled with usefulness which has been marked by pioneering not in the usual interpretation of that term as applied to those who subdue the wilderness but in the realm of electrical communication, and lighting and in modern transport.
There are few men better known than Mr. Trackson in Queensland, and his story has been told in "The Telegraph" on various occasions, but its main features will bear repetition. Mr. Trackson, who was born in Norwich, England, was educated at the King Edward VI. Grammar School and at Sedgley Park College, near Wolverhampton, and the famous Polytechnic in London, where he graduated in Science, specialising in the then infant electrical science. He studied there under Professor Pepper, who afterwards came to Brisbane and lectured and conducted scientific experiments here.

Members of the Trackson family outside Sedgley Grange homestead, Newmarket, ca. 1901, James Trackson is on the right with his wife and children and his brother Philange is to the left with his family

Mr. Trackson has had the honour of participating in electrical pioneering work in two States and in various departments of that science — namely telephone and electrical light systems. He was employed in establishing Melbourne's first telephone exchange. Then he was engaged on similar work, at Ballarat. Coming to Brisbane with Mr. F. Rosender he was engaged in establishing the Brisbane telephone exchange which was the first Government establishment of the kind in Australia. Before coming to Australia he had been associated with this kind of work in London and took part in the first long-distance telephone service there.

Subsequently Mr. Trackson was engaged on the installation of the electric light system in Parliament House here, and later in that of the first street lamps in Queen Street, which afterwards were removed to Roma Street. The old Opera House, now known as the remodelled His Majesty's Theatre, was the first public building, equipped with the new lighting system.

Mr. Trackson kept well abreast, of the times and when he found that steam buggies were being used overseas he imported one of these, thus becoming the pioneer of mechanically-propelled private vehicles in Queensland. That was in 1892. In 1900 he imported the first internal combustion car brought Into Queensland. He has been driving cars ever since and has never had an accident.

Trackson's Locomobile, Newmarket, Brisbane, ca.1903

"I attribute my immunity from accidents," said Mr. Trackson. "to the fact that I have driven as if every other driver was deaf and blind, making liberal allowances for the fools." Mr. J. S. Badger, who, you remember, was head of our tramways here for many years, gave me that advice, and very good advice it was, too."

Photograph taken in the side lane off the Foresters Hall in Brunswick Street. The car to the right was imported and carries Mr P Trackson, his wife and family. The car at the back was constructed by Harold Green, Chief Engineer of Trackson Bros. Pty. Ltd.

Mr. Trackson has taken a keen practical interest in Jersey breeding, and indeed he nearly lost his life through a Jersey bull attacking him one day. Only the providential intervention of some workmen at Sedgley Grange saved him.
In the days when capital punishment was on the statute books of Queensland, Mr. Trackson designed a system of drops which obviated the horrible spectacle of men being strangled instead of hung, and this scale was referred to as "Trackson's Drops."

On the occasion of the Pearl ferry boat disaster in February, 1896. Mr. Trackson says he was responsible for the saving of lives through rushing to a nearby telephone and asking down-river places to look out for possible survivors. 

For a number of years Mr. Trackson was one of the honorary magistrates who assisted in the dispensing of justice in the old Police Court and Summons Court in Elizabeth Street. He often sat on the bench with Mr. Philip Pinnock, popularly known as "Pa" Pinnock, one of the most picturesque personalities who ever presided over the metropolitan minor courts.

James Trackson died in 1941 and The Telegraph published an obituary which gives some additional information about James Trackson and his electrical company.

Queensland had the first State-owned telephone exchange, and Mr. Trackson was one of the experts who established it. He was brought here for that purpose by the late Mr. Charles Hardie Buzacott, the then Postmaster-General. The southern Governments bought out the privately established exchanges in their capitals. Mr. Trackson also was engaged on the work of installing the electric light system at Parliament House, the dynamo for which was operated at the Government printing office which also was similarly lighted. Mr. Trackson, together with his brother William, founded the electrical business which still bears the name of Trackson Brothers. Mr. William Trackson died many years ago and his place was taken, by Mr. Phil. Trackson, another brother.

Trackson Brothers specialised in electrical equipment and later radio but also supplied steam wagons and tractors and other motor vehicles for a while. They also acquired a license to supply acytylene equipment on behalf of the Acytylene Company. The company were a major draw card and the Brisbane Exhibition in 1902 as described in the Brisbane Courier.

Messrs. Trackson Bros., the noted electrical engineers, are quite a big factor in the success of the show, for it is with their assistance that a deal of the machinery is being worked. A 100 horse-power electrical generator, driven by a 550 volt tramway motor (lent by the Tramways Company), is providing energy for about nine motors working Industrial exhibits, also various lighting apparatus. Country visitors are naturally attracted by the Trackson Bros.' locomobile, which has just returned from a Northern trip of 2400 miles, during which the only repairs required were to the tires, and those only because of the awful condition of the road

State Library holds several volumes of photograph albums from the Trackson family presented to the library by James Trackson's daughter Winnie in 1943. The photographs date from 1879 to 1939 and feature their home at Newmarket and their motor vehicles. Also includes photographs from their travels interstate, intrastate and overseas and several Indigenous images.

An unusual photograph from the Trackson Family albums showing James Trackson posing as a big game hunter at Higgins' Tiger Farm, Toombul

Trackson Brothers have another connection with State Library in that they were awarded the contract to install electric lighting in the then Public Library of Queensland in 1906 as revealed in this recent blog story.

Simon Miller - Library Technician, State Library of Queensland

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As an ex PMG technician (1967) and volunteer at the Telstra telephone museum at Albion, I would be very interested in any further information you have on Mr Tracksons involvement with telephone exchanges.

Hi Jim,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. The State Library of Queensland Ask Us service can assist with your query. If you would like to fill in our online enquiry form with your details, one of our helpful librarians will assist you with your question https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/plan-my-visit/services/ask-us

Regards,

Heidi