(The master version of this biography, which includes images, is maintained at http://www.dorneyfamilyhistory.net/famtree_web/History_dorney.pdf)
Jim was born in Warrnambool, the second son of Irish immigrants from Cork. He appears to have had two main interests in life, aside from his family. In his youth, his main interest seems to have been cycling, and his mid-life and later years, running illegal betting operations. His legitimate profession was that of a barber and tobacconist. He managed to put all his children through the best schools and universities indifficult times. James was never known to swear or drink, and was capable of a full day's labouring in his 80s.
Jim, along with his brother John, was a keen cyclist who had been known to ride from Melbourne to Warrnambool quite often. They both participated, and won prizes in, numerous cycling competitions, most especially in the period between 1894 and 1896.
In 1896, this article appeared about him in the Warrnambool Standard - ‘Mr. J.H. Dorney was riding in Koroit Street when he ran into a dog which crossed the road. The cyclist was thrown on his head and was stunned for several minutes but was subsequently able to resume business. He sustained several bruises to the face. The ‘cycling craze’ has taken possession of a large number of people in Warrnambool and in order to prevent accidents it is necessary that proper precautions be observed. Many local riders manifest great carelessness for their machines are not fitted with alarm bells, and few of them are provided with a light when travelling through the streets at night. Complaints have been made by pedestrians, and the police should take action against cyclists who commit breaches of the law’.
On May 28 of the same year, he left Warrnambool on a cycling tour. Before he left, he was presented with a gold medal from his cycling friends.
He was living in Melbourne by at least 1899, as his silver hunting Waltham watch and 12 s 6d. were stolen from where he was boarding at 39 Regent street, Fitzroy on 22 May. It had been engraved with “James Dorney, April 29, 1891”
He married Marie Louise Kiernan on 15 February 1904, after he moved to Melbourne.
James ran a tobacconists shop in Warrnambool in 1895. James’ son Kiernan remembered his occupations as a Barber and illegal SP bookie. In 1901 he had a tobacconist and hairdressing business at 333 Mt Alexander Rd in Melbourne. This business continued in various locations along this road until at least 1933. James ran a pool hall at some stage, his grandson Earl remembering that his father, Esmond worked as a bouncer in James’ pool hall while still at home.
The family was living at 11 Warrick St, Ascot Vale as early as 1910. When they sold the house in May 1919 they described it as an eight room Queen Anne villa with tiled roof, steeloid ceilings, weatherboard, electric light, gas-stove, gas-fires, fruit trees, garden, lawn and a class of home seldom offered! Next month, they advertised for sale furniture, including a Saddlebag Suite and bedroom suites, and a Piano, carpet, lino and other odds and ends. By 1926 they were living at 161 Glen Huntly Rd, Elsternwick.
The family bought their first car in about 1912, which was a Mitchell. A few years later the family were involved in a car accident where they were swiped by the Frankston express, an incident which apparently made the first page of a Melbourne newspaper.
A letter to Marie’s sister Margaret in 1912 referred to Marie and the car –
‘...I suppose time goes fast now that Mrs. D has a car. I have heard that a great
black monster, such a beauty, more beautiful than my language, is often seen in A. Vale streets – “to the terror of the passers”. My word how things change and how people change with them; to think that Mrs. D always so wrapped up in the “cloudy atmosphere of the poets’.
At this point the next page is missing but on the following page there is more –
‘...to convey to Mr and Mrs Dorney my kindest regards..... that despite motor cars and other aristocratic matters.... that I may still claim the friendship of an old and valued acquaintance’
In 1933, James knocked down and killed a pedestrian with his vehicle. It seems he was driving very recklessly. He was not charged, but the coroner had this to say “ Although he has been driving for 20 years, the motorist, James Henry Dorney, handled his car very unskilfully and showed a great deal of stupidity.”
James was an incorrigible illegal bookmaker, first fined in 1915 and eventually jailed in 1936 for three months for his activities. His marriage with Marie’s was very strained after that. During his time in prison he worked in the library. While in jail his sons had to support the family at the same time as completing their University courses. By the time he was given his prison sentence, his fines totalled £1,070!! To put this in context, a reasonable weekly wage in this period was around £5.
It’s hard to be sure if the family wealth was made or nearly lost through Jim’s illegal activities. His granddaughter Lee had this to say “I think for Nana Dorney (Marie) there was either feast or famine and Dad (Esmond) talked of the wonderful black carriage horses they had, but then we learned there was no money and Nana had to scrape to get the boys through Uni. Next you hear that Dad had a Delage sports car whilst he was at Uni – so who knows?”
The family’s second car was a Buick, James’ grandnieces and nephews recalling him driving to Warrnambool in the early 1940’s and taking all the children blackberry picking.
James and Marie were a good match for each other. James was a very quiet, gentle and calm person, which he much needed if married to Marie. Marie was a nice person, but very strong willed and it was apparently easiest to get on with her if you agreed that she was right. Dorothy said that Marie loved everybody until she knew them well. James and Marie were separated in later life.
One story about James comes from his granddaughter Lee. Lee was a district nurse in Melbourne. Once when visiting some old ladies she was asked if she was a relative of Jim Dorney. When Lee replied so, the old woman became dreamy and said ‘Now there’s a man who knew how to look after a woman!’.
James died in 1962 in Melbourne aged 90.
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