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Thomas McIlwraith

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Sir Thomas McIlwraith (1835-1900)

Resident engineer for Cornish and Bruce on the Ballarat to Sandhurst railway

1879 Bio Note [1]

M'ILWRAITH, Hon. THOMAS, M.L.C., was born in Ayr in 1835, educated at that city and at Glasgow College. Arrived in Melbourne in 1855, and was Civil Engineer to the Government Railways, and to Cornish and Bruce. He conducted (to a successful issue) almost solely the case for his principals in Cornish and Bruce v. the Government of Victoria.

In 1861 engaged in squatting pursuits in Queensland, and settled there in 1870. Represented for many years the Maranoa, in the Legislative Assembly; joined the Macalister Government, as Minister for Works, but shortly afterwards resigned.

In 1878 was elected for Mulgrave, and on the defeat of the Douglas Ministry on January 16, 1879, he formed a new Government, of which he is Premier.

1900 Obituary [2]

Sir THOMAS McILWRAITH, K.C.M.G., LL.D., died at his residence 208 Cromwell Road, South Kensington, on the 17th July, 1900.

Born in 1835, he was the second son of the late Mr. John McIlwraith, of Ayr. After being educated at Ayr Academy he proceeded to the University of Glasgow, with the intention of entering one of the learned professions; but hearing of his elder brother's commercial success in Melbourne, he emigrated to Victoria in 1854. On his arrival in that Colony he joined the engineering staff of the Government, and was engaged in the construction of the Geelong, Ballarat, Melbourne, and Sandhurst Railways.

In 1861 Mr. McIlwraith began to be largely interested in land in Queensland, and in 1870 he finally settled in that Colony, where he was returned to the Legislative Assembly.

In January, 1874, he became Minister of Public Works and Mines, but resigned in the following October.

In 1877 he was recognized as the leader of the opposition, and on the defeat of the Douglas Ministry in January, 1879, he became Premier and Colonial Treasurer. In 1881 he visited England, and succeeded in making a contract with the British India Steam Navigation Company for the establishment of a line of mail steamers to run between London and Brisbane.

During his various administrations he made strenuous efforts to carry a bill through Parliament to grant a concession to an English company for the construction of a Trans-continental Railway to the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the land-grant principle, a system he considered peculiarly well adapted for Queensland, where there are immense tracts of country awaiting settlement.

He remained Premier until November, 1883, when the general election resulted in a majority for Mr. (now Sir) Samuel Griffith. Perhaps the most important event of his administration was the annexation of New Guinea on the 4th April, 1883, a step which did not receive the sanction of Lord Derby, then Secretary of State for the Colonies. Out of this incident sprang the Inter- Colonial Convention, held in Sydney in November, 1883, which formulated the basis on which the Federal Council of Australasia was ultimately established.

While Premier Mr. McIlwraith was first Colonial Treasurer and then Colonial Secretary, in which capacities he did much to develop the resources of the Colony by initiating new railways and other works. In recognition of his services he was created K.C.M.G. in 1882. The University of Glasgow bad already conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D., and in June, 1884, he and his elder brother, being on a visit to Scotland, were presented with the freedom of Ayr.

Sir Thomas McIlwraith retired from public life in 1886, but re-entered it in 1888, when he headed the poll for North Brisbane by a large majority over the Premier, Sir Samuel Griffith, whom he succeeded for a short time. During this period the well-known dispute arose with the Governor, Sir Antony Musgrave, as to his prerogative of mercy in the case of convicted criminals. Sir Thomas contended that the Governor had no choice but to follow the advice of his Ministers in these matters, whilst the latter claimed to exercise an independent discretion. The point was subsequently decided by the Colonial Office in Sir Thomas McIlwraith‘s favour.

He resigned his post in November, 1888, owing to ill-health, and travelled to China and Japan. In 1890 he became treasurer in the administration of Sir Samuel Griffith, and he was again Premier of Queensland from 1892 to 1893, when he finally retired. From that time he was an invalid, and vainly travelled over the Continent in search of health.

A thorough Scot, Sir Thomas McIlwraith had the kindly qualities of his race. To the last he took a keen interest in men, books and affairs, and nothing pleased him more than to discuss current politics with the Colonial statesmen and others who visited him at Kensington.

Sir Thomas McIlwraith was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 6th December, 1881.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1879 Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time by J. H. Heaton
  2. 1900 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries