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Brentnall, Frederick Thomas (1834–1925)

by Ronald Lawson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Frederick Thomas Brentnall (1834-1925), Wesleyan minister, journalist, company director and politician, was born on 17 June 1834 at Riddings, Derbyshire, England, eldest of the twelve children of George Brentnall, builder, and his wife Mary, née Clarke. He was educated at an endowed school in Alfreton, near Derby. He entered business in Ripley, Derbyshire, but in 1863 was sent to join the Wesleyan Conference of New South Wales and Queensland. After serving on several circuits in New South Wales, in April 1873 he joined the Brisbane circuit, where he quickly made an impact as a forceful and eloquent preacher. He became chairman of the Queensland district, where he was prominent in the formation of a strong loan fund which was to prove important in extending Wesleyan Methodist work in Queensland. He served also in the circuits of Fortitude Valley and Ipswich, and at the Ann Street Church in Brisbane, before a throat infection forced him to retire from the ministry in 1883.

In 1875, towards the climax of the education controversy in Queensland, Brentnall was instrumental with three other clergymen in establishing the Queensland Evangelical Standard, a journal dedicated to a system of secular education, and thus anti-Catholic in tone. Viewing the 'squatting party' as allies of the Catholics, the Standard adopted a clear political posture, championed the cause of (Sir) Samuel Griffith, a Liberal and son of a Congregational cleric, and poured invective on 'Land Rings and Railway Kings'. Brentnall used his pen with telling effect against the McIlwraith ministry in its handling of the steel rails contract of 1881 and soon afterwards of the land-grant railway proposal.

Brentnall's activity in the business world seems to have been recognized as early as 1881. The Daily Observer, 28 February, openly attacked him in an advertisement: 'Wanted for the Christian Ministry … Special advantages are now offered to worldly-minded men to join the ranks … Men of business turn of mind specially eligible for this ministry, and always come to the front. “Fervency of spirit” not at all necessary. Shareholders in gold mines, tin mines, newspaper companies, land speculating, and such like heavenly pastures, will always be accepted as specially qualified'. The Standard, smarting under the sarcasm, responded so sharply that its reply led to a libel case. On his retirement from the church Brentnall joined the Telegraph, in which he was a minor shareholder, as a journalist. In 1885 he greatly increased his holdings in the company and became chairman of directors, a position he retained until May 1893, after which he continued to hold a large financial interest. He became increasingly active in business affairs, his directorships included the Queensland Deposit Bank and Building Society, and the Queensland Trustees (later becoming chairman of directors of both companies), Queensland General Insurance, Finney Isles, Coolgarra Tin Mining, Queensland Exploration and Queensland Copper Freeholds. He speculated widely, sometimes successfully, sometimes disastrously, in Queensland mining ventures. He was one of the earliest settlers and landholders at Coorparoo and sold some of his blocks in the boom year of 1888 as it began to emerge as a prestige suburb. He was a member of the Bulimba Divisional Board and for two years first chairman of the Coorparoo Shire Council, where he acted also as shire clerk in 1888-92. In 1886 he had been nominated to the Legislative Council, where he remained active until it was abolished in 1922; in 1893-1902 he was chairman of committees. His political views had gradually become more conservative since the Standard days, especially after the rise of the Labor Party, of which he was an uncompromising enemy. He vigorously opposed 'advanced' legislation and abolition of the Legislative Council. He became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland). He maintained his interest in church life, served on church committees, made settlements on various Methodist institutions, giving them an annual income, and in his will left substantial sums to the Methodist Church.

In 1867 he married Elizabeth Watson, daughter of a store-keeper in Mansfield, Nottingham. She had left her position as headmistress of a large Wesleyan day school for girls at Bacup, Lancashire, and followed Brentnall to Sydney to marry him. She was the first president of the Queensland Women's Christian Temperance Union, holding office in 1885-99, and then honorary president until her death in 1909. Brentnall died in Brisbane on 11 January 1925, survived by two daughters: Flora, who in 1893 married Edgar Bridal Harris, a shipping agent, and Charlotte Amelia. He left substantial holdings in the Telegraph Newspaper Co. to his family, and his grandson later became chairman of directors.

Select Bibliography

  • R. S. C. Dingle, Annals of Achievement: A Review of Queensland Methodism, 1847-1947 (Brisb, 1947)
  • Queensland Evangelical Standard, 12 Feb, 10 June 1876, 26 May 1877, 10 Aug 1878, 30 Aug 1879
  • Brisbane Courier, 9 Aug 1881, 13 Jan 1925
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 13 Jan 1925.

Citation details

Ronald Lawson, 'Brentnall, Frederick Thomas (1834–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brentnall-frederick-thomas-3050/text4487, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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