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de Burgh Persse, Fitzpatrick (1840–1921)

by Michael D. De B. Collins Persse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Fitzpatrick de Burgh Persse (1840-1921), pioneer pastoralist and company director, was born on 25 September 1840 in Moyode Castle, County Galway, Ireland, youngest of the sixteen children of Burton Persse, twelve of them by his second wife Matilda, daughter of Henry Persse, of Roxborough. Through each parent he was a cousin of Augusta Persse, Lady Gregory, dramatist and grande dame of the Irish literary renaissance whose friend and collaborator, W. B. Yeats, described in his Autobiographies the feudal manner of life of the Galway Persses, a branch of the Northumberland Percys. De Burgh Persse grew up in the world of the Protestant ascendancy, and hunting and farming became abiding interests. At Cuba House School, Banagher, he showed intellectual promise and he read classics, mathematics, philosophy, science and medicine at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1861). He was then commissioned lieutenant in the 22nd Regiment.

Adventurous by nature, he was inspired by Sir John Young and a visit to the 1862 International Exhibition in London to resign his commission and go to Queensland. He arrived at Brisbane in the Golden City on 6 March 1863 and went straight to the bush: first on an exploration for pastoral purposes to Arthur Downs, west of St Lawrence, and thence with Arthur McKenzie and 1000 head of cattle to stock May Downs, near Yalton, where they were probably the first white men. Reduced by fever and privations to a shadow, he returned to Brisbane to recuperate. After further experience at Tieryboo on the Condamine, he was appointed in 1864 to manage Tambourine and later Maroon stations for the Bank of Australasia, and was thus led to the Albert River district south of Brisbane, where in 1865 he bought Tabragalba, the station near Beaudesert which became his lifelong home. He was one of the first in Queensland to inoculate stock for pleuro-pneumonia. Having brought Tabragalba into sound working order, he left in 1870 for Ireland, where on 16 November 1871 he married his cousin Mary Persse, daughter of William Blair, of Cappa, Kilrush, County Clare. In July 1872 they sailed for Queensland, and in the next decade he extended his pastoral interests, after journeys into territory where he was sometimes the first white man, by founding Palpararra and Connemara on Farrar's Creek, Tally-ho on the Mayne, Buckingham Downs on the Wills and Lake De Burgh. His new properties were stocked with cattle of his own breeding from Tabragalba. Having established these and then sold them to John Costello and others, he acquired four stations in the Burnett, of which Hawkwood passed with Tabragalba to his elder son Charles Dudley (1874-1959), and Eidsvold to his son-in-law Fitzpierce Joyce.

In April 1878 Persse was elected by a large majority for Fassifern to the Queensland Legislative Assembly. Albeit a squatter he was regarded by many as 'a liberal and a man for the people' and by himself as 'a thoroughly independent member, tied to no party' and determined 'to advocate and support any views which he considered would be for the general welfare of the colony'. For five years he constantly rode the fifty miles (81 km) from Tabragalba to Brisbane and made more than 150 speeches on many subjects, especially pastoral ones, the extension of railways and the treatment of Aboriginals, whom he had lived amongst and knew well. His views were always vigorous, common-sensical and humane. He resigned in September 1883 and after two years at Castle Lambert in Galway and five in Queensland, he spent nearly three years at Moyode Castle where he acted as head of the family and followed tradition by being high sheriff of Galway in 1890 and master of the County Galway hounds, the Blazers, in 1889-91.

Apart from visits to Ireland in 1900-02 and 1914-15, he spent the remainder of his life in Queensland, where he was active in public life at Beaudesert and president of the Agricultural and Pastoral Society and of the Jockey Club, and in Brisbane president of the Queensland Club in 1899-1900. From 1886 he had been a director of the Royal Bank of Queensland and from 1899 of the Queensland Meat Export and Agency Co., of which he was chairman in 1915 when it was divided into the Queensland Meat Export Co. and the Australian Stock Breeders' Co., retaining this position in both companies until 1921. In Singapore he established the Cold Storage Co. in 1903; he was also chairman of the Raub Australian Gold Mining Co. In most of these interests he was succeeded by his younger son, De Burgh Bannatyne Bentinck (1881-1947), who in 1909 married Fanny, fourth daughter of the Persses' friend and near neighbour R. M. Collins. Two grandsons, Dudley (son of Charles) and Robert, married daughters of William Collins.

Always an ardent sportsman, Persse helped to introduce hunting in Queensland, and was president and trustee of the Queensland Turf Club, importing blood horses from Ireland and having some success on the antipodean turf at the same time as his nephew Atty Persse was at the height of his fame as an owner-trainer in England. Tabragalba became a splendid property with a lovely homestead and garden, a mecca for visitors, to which he and his wife brought the best of their Anglo-Irish background—wit, charm, kindness, hospitality and spaciousness as well as a magic of their own. In their later years they were surrounded by grandchildren, and their descendants have remained close to one another and their Irish and English kin. Persse refused a knighthood. Autocratic but kindly, disliking half-measures but generous of time, money and affection, he rejoiced to share his interests with others, especially the young; perhaps his best service to Australia was as an unconscious educator and transmitter of civilization. He died at Southport on 17 February 1921, leaving an Australian estate valued at £91,709. He was survived by his wife (d.1923) and five children, whose marriages had all strengthened the family's ties with Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 1 (Brisb, 1919)
  • C. W. Hughes, A Tale of Two Companies (Syd, 1968)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1878-82
  • Brisbane Courier, 11 Apr 1878, 30 Aug 1883, 4 July 1903, 18 Feb 1921
  • Queenslander, 4 July 1903
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Aug 1907, 16 Mar 1921
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michael D. De B. Collins Persse, 'de Burgh Persse, Fitzpatrick (1840–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/de-burgh-persse-fitzpatrick-812/text7155, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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