James Hemphill was born in Ireland to father James and mother unknown. He is later found in Sydney NSW, having married Margaret McRae in 1848, he was 27 and she was 21. Margaret was born in 1827 at Rosemarkie, Ross, Black Isle Scotland to parents John McRae and Elizabeth McKenzie.
They leave Sydney and arrive in Melbourne sometime between the birth of daughter Elizabeth in Sydney in 1850 and birth of son Charles in 1855 in Melbourne. James opens a business on Elizabeth Street Melbourne next to Passmore’s Hotel, selling grocery staples.
James Hemphill was the first crown land purchaser of two pieces of land being lot 7 & 9 on section 56 on Spencer Street West Melbourne, as well as being an agent for inter-coastal ships passage such as the schooner Toroa.
By 1858, citizens who include Thomas Short, James Oliver, John Reynolds and 200 others living within the Bourke Ward sign a petition published in the Argus news encouraging Hemphill to stand as a candidate in Melbourne Council elections.
In 1859 Hemphill, living in Queen Street Melbourne is elected as the representative of the people for Bourke Ward. The same year he is also appointed to the board of management of the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum.
Hemphill’s candle burned out long before his legend ever did as they say. By 1862, at the age of 40, Hemphill’s body was found floating in the Yarra River, from what they can only surmise at that time may have been death by suicide.
Hemphill’s financial difficulties and mortgage debts amounting to more than £2,000 in 1862 may have contributed to his early demise.