Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Finney, Thomas (1837–1903)

by A. A. Morrison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Thomas Finney (1837-1903), merchant and politician, was born on 10 January 1837 at Currakeen House, Tuam, Galway, Ireland, son of Thomas Finney and his wife Eliza, née Cornwall. He was educated privately and in 1856 began work in a drapery business in Dublin. In 1862 with his workmate James Isles (d.1888), Finney arrived at Brisbane in the Flying Cloud. Two years later in partnership Finney Isles & Co. bought a drapery business in Ann Street, Fortitude Valley, and with a staff of five traded as Finney Isles & Co. at the Valley Exchange. By 1869 the business had branches in Rockhampton and Gympie; next year they opened a second Brisbane store, the City Exchange in Edward Street. The firm bought these premises in 1873 and with the acquisition of further property expanded into such lines as tailoring, furniture, furnishing and hardware, an early development of the modern department store. The trading was not consolidated until 1909 when new premises were built extending over a whole frontage between Queen and Adelaide Streets.

Finney was always interested in the welfare of his employees and in 1879 pioneered 6 p.m. closing in Brisbane stores. In 1885, with other firms, he instituted 1 p.m. closing on Saturdays and continued it despite the reversion of other firms to the old Saturday hours of 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. A charity fund of the employees was subsidized £ for £ by the management and was administered by a committee comprising the managing director and two leading employees elected by the staff. The business suffered severely in 1893 from flood waters and from the financial crisis, but soon recovered.

Finney was a licensing justice, a member of the Brisbane Board of Water Works and the Fire Brigade Board. He was also president of the Commercial Rowing Club. He was long a member of the Toowong Shire Council and in 1896 yielded to pressure from his friends and associates and stood successfully for the Toowong seat in the Legislative Assembly; in the 1898 election he retained the seat. In parliament he continued his campaign to improve conditions for shop assistants and similar workers. He visited England in 1898, 1900 and 1901-03, and resigned his seat in 1902.

On 24 May 1864 in the Wesleyan Church, Brisbane, Finney married Kate Pringle Little; when she died less than two years later he married Sidney Ann Jackson whose father was a member of the Irish landed gentry and whose sister married James Isles. In 1881 she bought land at Toowong, and next year built Sidney House, one of the major residences in Brisbane. She died on 13 October 1883 leaving a son and two daughters; under her will Sidney House became the property of her husband. In England in 1901 Thomas Finney married a widow, Janet Edgar Farrow, to whom he left a life interest in Sidney House when he died on 16 December 1903. He was buried at Toowong cemetery. In the 1960s Sidney House was acquired by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and Finney Isles & Co. was taken over by David Jones Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. T. Barton, Jubilee History of Queensland (Brisb, 1910)
  • L. E. Slaughter, Finneys: 90 Years of Progress, 1864-1954 (Brisb, 1954).

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Finney, Thomas (1837–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/finney-thomas-3518/text5411, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 30 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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