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Brooks, Samuel Wood (1840–1915)

by Pamela Bray

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

Samuel Wood Brooks (1840-1915), journalist, was born on 29 August 1840 at Beeston, Nottinghamshire, England, son of John German Brooks, builder, and his wife Mary, née Wood. Educated at village schools and the People's College, Nottingham, where he was for six years an assistant master, he became in 1862 a student at a Wesleyan theological college. He arrived at Sydney in 1863 and became first resident Wesleyan minister at North Sydney. He joined the Wesleyan mission and took up a post in Fiji in January 1865. In 1875 he resigned when his relations with a neighbouring planter's wife were discovered. Although two years earlier residents and planters on Taveuni had praised Brooks and his wife for their 'untiring endeavours to improve the spiritual, moral and social conditions of our labourers, as well as the natives of this District', although they appreciated that Brooks had himself built most of the new stone mission house, and although his interest in the education and welfare of his flock was obvious, a fellow missionary wrote feelingly of the scandal and disgrace, and the missionary society refused to pay his return fares to Sydney.

Brooks arrived in Brisbane in 1880 as a partner in Brentnall Bros & Brooks, merchants, became immediately involved in literary and educational movements and charitable organizations, and soon began a busy career as journalist and lecturer. He joined the Brisbane School of Arts in 1881, was treasurer in 1884-92 and helped to establish its rapidly-expanding educational project which grew into a technical college. With Reginald Roe and (Sir) Samuel Griffith he formed the Brisbane Literary Circle. In 1891 he served in the royal commission on establishing a university in Queensland; later he promoted and was first treasurer of the university extension movement. He did not believe that the government had any more duty 'to teach his children than to clothe or feed them', and argued that payment for education made people more appreciative of the privilege. Among Brooks's other interests were the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Brisbane Hospital, the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society, and the Oddfellows. From 1891 he was a director of the City and Suburban Building Society.

Spencer Browne, A Journalist's Memories (Brisbane, 1927), claimed that Brooks began his literary career on the Observer during his editorship, and described him as a fine speaker with great breadth of mind. From 1883 under the pseudonym, 'Veisoniwai', Brooks reviewed acquisitions to the School of Arts library; he covered only serious works, refusing to pander to the taste for novels. He was on the staff of the Telegraph for some twenty years and contributed regularly to the Brisbane Courier on such subjects as social justice, welfare, politics, religion, morality and literature. In 1893 he launched the Spectator, an anti-socialist weekly which seems to have soon collapsed. In 1895 he became part-proprietor of the weekly, Moreton Mail, and sole proprietor in 1896. He continued to contribute to the Telegraph and Figaro, and for a time was president of the Queensland Country Press Association.

In May 1886 Brooks won a by-election at Fortitude Valley. The premier, Griffith, recommended him as a man who could not only speak for himself but think for himself, yet during his two years in the Legislative Assembly he seldom spoke and then but briefly. He was a Griffith Liberal with an uncompromising belief in free trade, a compassion for his fellows and a strict regard for economy. Despite an early and sympathetic contact with Chartism he came to believe that trade unionism was endeavouring to impose a tyranny of its own. With other members of the Griffith party Brooks lost his seat in 1888.

On 29 November 1864 at the Wesleyan Church, York Street, Sydney, he had married Hannah, aged 20, daughter of Joseph Walker, farmer, and Ann, née Webster. He died at his home, St Germans, New Farm, Brisbane, on 9 February 1915, and was privately buried by a Methodist minister. He was survived by his wife, and a son and a daughter of his three children.

Select Bibliography

  • T. P. Pugh's Queensland Almanac (Brisb, 1896)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1886-88
  • Brisbane Courier, 1886-88, 13 Feb 1915
  • J. T. Cleary, The North Brisbane School of Arts, 1849-99 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1967)
  • Australian Methodist Church, overseas mission records (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Samuel Wood Brooks, newsclippings, vols 1-3 (University of Queensland Library).

Citation details

Pamela Bray, 'Brooks, Samuel Wood (1840–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brooks-samuel-wood-3067/text4525, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

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