This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981
John Ferguson (1830-1906), builder, contractor, mining investor and politician, was born on 15 March 1830 at Kenmore, Perthshire, Scotland, son of John Ferguson, weaver and lead-miner, and his wife Janet, née Ferguson. After a limited education he worked as a ploughboy on the estates of the Marquess of Breadalbane. He then trained as a carpenter, working in that trade in Killin and Glasgow before sailing to Sydney at the end of 1855. Over the next five years he was a miner and carpenter at the Mudgee and Ararat, Victoria, goldfields. He also worked as a carpenter in Sydney, before moving to Rockhampton, Queensland, probably in 1862. On 1 March 1862 he had married Eliza Frances Wiley in Sydney.
In Rockhampton Ferguson became a builder in his own right. He constructed a number of buildings, including the first meatworks and cottages at Lakes Creek. He became a member of many public and semi-public bodies and served as a deacon in the Congregational Church. In 1884 he purchased a large share in the Mount Morgan mine. This was a lucrative investment which added greatly to his wealth and he was able to retire from the building trade in 1888.
Ferguson served on the Rockhampton Municipal Council from 1878 until 1890; he was mayor in 1880-81 and 1882-83. In 1881-88 he represented Rockhampton in the Legislative Assembly, at first supporting McIlwraith, then Griffith, and in 1894-1906 was a member of the Legislative Council. Though a poor speaker and not widely read, he worked hard for Rockhampton.
During the 1890s he travelled extensively throughout the world. As president of the Central Queensland Separation League, he visited England as a delegate in 1892. He believed strongly that the Queensland government was neglecting the region, but gossip averred that his elaborate mansion was built on the Athelstane Range in 1890 in expectation of becoming governor of a new colony.
While overseas in 1901 Ferguson, who had long been a supporter of Federation, was nominated as a candidate for the Senate. As he did not return until after the poll, his supporters campaigned for him on the platform of support for free trade and White Australia. Once elected he achieved some prominence as the only Queensland senator to oppose the Pacific islands labourers bill, pleading for a longer period during which the islanders could be phased out of the sugar industry. But old age and illness prevented him from being an active parliamentarian. On 13 October 1903 the Senate declared his seat vacant after he had been absent without permission for two consecutive months during a session. The Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1902 would in any case have prevented his renomination while he held his Legislative Council seat.
Ferguson died of cancer in Sydney on 30 March 1906, survived by his wife, one son and five daughters. He was buried at Waverley cemetery with Congregational forms. His estate, valued for probate at £218,319 in Queensland and £12,179 in New South Wales, was left to his family. One of his daughters married J. T. Bell, the Queensland politician.
Ferguson was remembered as honest and unassuming. Despite his status and wealth, he was always mindful of his humble origins. His main achievements were at a local level and he was much less successful in colonial and national politics.
David Carment, 'Ferguson, John (1830–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ferguson-john-6158/text10577, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 April 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981