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Brunton, Thomas (1831–1908)

by J. Ann Hone

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

Thomas Brunton (1831-1908), mill-owner, was born on 25 June 1831 near Roxburgh, Scotland, son of Walter Brunton, land steward and farmer, and his wife Christina, née Smail. He attended the Melrose parish school and at 12 became a baker's apprentice. The gold rushes brought him to Melbourne in the Eagle in April 1853. He was unsuccessful at the Mount Alexander and Maldon goldfields and on his return to Melbourne was employed at the gas works for a year. Then with a school friend Brunton bought a bakery for £800. Continued success for more than ten years enabled him in 1868 to build a flour-milling plant at the corner of Spencer Street and Flinders Lane, the site costing £3000.

In 1882 Brunton visited American, English and Continental flour-milling centres, returning with plans for a new roller mill. The new milling process, requiring porcelain and chilled iron rollers unobtainable locally, caused Brunton, a former president of the Essendon branch of the Victorian Protection League, to protest at the duty on patent machinery. His wish for an association of millers was fulfilled in 1884 with the founding of the Corn Trade Association. As its president in 1886 Brunton urged amalgamation with the Chamber of Commerce. He supported the appointment of a tribunal to settle trade disputes justly, for he had more faith in a tribunal of 'competent honest men' than in the law. In 1887 Brunton opened a mill at Granville, near Sydney; this branch was run almost independently by his sons. In 1893 Brunton sold the Melbourne city site for £50,000 and bought another at North Melbourne where he established the Australian Flour Mills.

Brunton had early political ambitions and in 1868 unsuccessfully contested the West Melbourne seat in the Legislative Assembly. He also unsuccessfully stood for the Legislative Council before winning the Southern Province in September 1890; he held this seat until 1904. Brunton called himself 'one of the old loyal liberal school' and regarded the possession of property 'as evidence of thrift and good citizenship' and a proper basis for the franchise. Though opposed to the enfranchisement of women he felt there was a case for women property owners. He opposed moves for constitutional reform: 'We must be very careful not to allow any innovation that will take away any of the rights and privileges now possessed by this chamber'. He was president of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1895, and though always interested in agricultural development, he opposed amendment of the Agricultural College Act because 'experience had shown him that the best farmers had not graduated at any college'.

Brunton was a Harbor Trust commissioner in 1890-98, and president of the Royal Caledonian Society in 1894-96, though he rarely attended council meetings. In 1898 Brunton sought leave from the Legislative Council because of ill health and went overseas. By 1903 he had practically relinquished control of the business to his sons and had bought Roxburgh Park near Broadmeadows, where he bred cattle, horses and Shropshire sheep. He was an early member of the Victoria Racing Club. Brunton supported many public institutions, notably the Essendon Ladies' Benevolent Society. He died at his home, Roxburgh, Ascot Vale, on 7 September 1908, predeceased by his wife Jane, née Chattaway, whom he had married in 1855, and survived by three daughters and three of his five sons.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Chamber of Commerce (Syd), Commerce in Congress (Syd, 1909)
  • A. H. Chisholm, Scots Wha Hae: History of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne (Syd, 1950)
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 30 Mar 1895
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Oct 1886, 12 Sept 1890, 8 Sept 1908
  • Essendon Gazette, 10 Sept 1908
  • Australasian, 12 Sept 1908.

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Brunton, Thomas (1831–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brunton-thomas-3097/text4589, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 October 2018.

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

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