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Brown, Thomas (1861–1934)

by John Atchison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Thomas Brown (1861-1934), by Swiss Studios

Thomas Brown (1861-1934), by Swiss Studios

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23252160

Thomas Brown (1861-1934), farmer and politician, was born on 6 October 1861 at the parsonage, Walla Walla near Forbes, New South Wales, eldest child of Mitchell Brown, domestic servant to Rev. Marcus Brownrigg, and his wife Isabella, née Abernethy. His father migrated from the Shetland Islands, Scotland arriving in Sydney on 22 February 1856 on the David McIver. In 1866 Mitchell selected land at Bedgerebong which he named Clusta. Thomas studied for the Presbyterian ministry at St Andrew's College, University of Sydney, but the health problems caused his withdrawal. He remained a lay preacher and was an elder of Forbes Church and later of Chalmers Church, Redfern, where on 15 December 1897 he married his cousin Louisa Jane Brown; he received part of Clusta which he named Browland.

Brown's skill as a farmers' advocate launched his political career: he represented Forbes at the first Farmers and Settlers' Association conference in June 1893 and was a foundation member of its executive. In 1894 he won the Condoublin seat in the Legislative Assembly as a 'non-solidarity' Labor member; next year he joined the Labor 'solidarities'. A free trader, he supported (Sir) George Reid against (Sir) William Lyne and W. A. Holman, and opposed the 1899 referendum on the draft constitution bill. He was a delegate to the interstate conference on the formation of a Federal Labor Party held in Sydney in January 1900.

In 1901 Brown resigned from the assembly and surprisingly defeated B. R. Wise for the Canobolas seat in the House of Representatives. A 'King among Stonewallers', he emerged as the 'Bannerman' of the Federal parliament. Unopposed in 1903, he was dissatisfied with the general election and secured a select committee on the administration of the Electoral Act and served on it. In 1906 'Honest Tom' Brown won the new seat of Calare; he strongly supported the 1910 land tax bill. A member of the Australian delegation to London for George V's coronation in 1911, he became first secretary of the Australian branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association.

Some months after being defeated for Calare in 1913 Brown returned to the State parliament at a by-election for Lachlan. In September 1915 he embarrassed Holman by introducing a motion on closing hours for licensed premises. The victory of 6-o'clock closing in the referendum of June 1916 owed little to his traditional temperance arguments. That year he joined the Universal Service League but remained with the Labor Party after the split over conscription. He chaired the 1916-17 royal commission into rural, pastoral, agricultural and dairying interests. Defeated by E. A. Buttenshaw in 1917, he worked for a temperance organization, then became secretary to the prime minister W. M. Hughes.

Brown was highly esteemed in the Presbyterian General Assembly and was active in committee. In 1909 he had facilitated a public discussion on social issues which ended in a memorable clash between the prime minister Andrew Fisher and Rev. John Ferguson. Brown was a councillor of Scots College, Sydney, and a member of the Council for Civil and Moral Advancement (1915). Survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons, he died at his residence at Randwick on 23 March 1934 of cerebral haemorrhage and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 20 Mar 1913
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24, 29 Mar 1934
  • Australian Worker, 28 Mar 1934
  • D. H. Coward, The Impact of War on New South Wales (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1974)
  • Thomas Brown papers 2185, 2234 (National Library of Australia)
  • L. J. Weir, Genealogy and biographical data of the Brown family, 1650-1973
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Brown, Thomas (1861–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brown-thomas-5391/text9129, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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