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Fitzgerald, Thomas Henry (1824–1888)

by G. C. Bolton

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

Thomas Henry Fitzgerald (1824-1888), sugar-grower and politician, was born in October 1824 at Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, Ireland, son of Patrick Fitzgerald, farmer, and his wife Anne, née Dunoyer. He qualified as an engineer, migrated to New Zealand in 1842 and worked as an assistant surveyor. In 1851 he married Jessie Wilson (d.1901).

Fitzgerald sat in the Provincial Council of Wellington in 1857-58 and of Hawke's Bay in 1859-61, and in the House of Representatives from April to November 1860 as member for Hawke's Bay. A persistent separatist and advocate of provincial rights, he did not remain in any one post long enough to make the mark which his abilities suggested. In 1862 he went to Queensland and was appointed a surveyor based at Rockhampton. In 1864-65 he surveyed the site of Mackay where, impressed with the potential for sugar-growing, he resigned and with John Ewen Davidson started one of the earliest plantations. He erected the Alexandra mill with the first local iron-crushing apparatus in the district. Its success in the 1868 season established the capacity of the district for sugar-growing. Fitzgerald later founded the Meadowlands and Te Kowai mills and the Peri plantation; but his attention was already drawn towards politics.

As in New Zealand, Fitzgerald's political career in Queensland was characterized by forceful spokesmanship of local grievances and lack of persistence in playing the political game. This lack of persistence was partly due to the competing claims of his business interests which as the father of a large family he could not afford to neglect. In September 1866 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for Kennedy; next year with Archibald Archer he championed the northern interests. Together they attempted to establish in Queensland provincial councils like those in New Zealand but failed; they then supported the Mackenzie ministry but, disappointed in their hopes of reduced government expenditure, additional representation for the north and land laws giving the pastoralist greater security, they changed sides in November 1868 and the government resigned. Invited to form a ministry, Fitzgerald failed but consented to join (Sir) Charles Lilley's Liberal ministry as colonial treasurer. He resigned from the ministry in January 1869 and his seat in June. Lured again by politics in November 1873, he was elected for Bowen. The Mackay sugar industry was then suffering from poor seasons and Fitzgerald's main activity in parliament was to move in 1874 for the introduction of cheap Indian labour for the canefields but the motion was narrowly defeated. He became insolvent in 1875 and resigned his seat; his estate passed out of his hands in 1876.

When the sugar industry boomed in 1879, Fitzgerald hoped to pioneer cane-growing in another district. He sailed north to inspect potential sites. After looking at the Daintree River he settled on the Johnstone River, sixty miles (97 km) south of Cairns, and in 1880 with help from the Brisbane Convent of Mercy founded Innisfail, the first plantation there. Handicapped by fever, heavy scrub and the fall in sugar prices in 1883 he failed and in 1885 Innisfail passed to a mortgagee. After erecting the Hambledon mill near Cairns in 1886 for Thomas Swallow Fitzgerald retired to Brisbane where he died on 10 November 1888 and was buried in the Catholic section of the Brisbane general cemetery. In the Johnstone district the town of Geraldton commemorated him but was changed in 1909 to Innisfail to avoid confusion with Geraldton in Western Australia. Fitzgerald left eight sons and three daughters. The two eldest sons grew cane in the Innisfail district; the fifth, Charles Borromeo (1865-1907), represented Mitchell as a Labor member in the Legislative Assembly in 1896-1902 and was attorney-general for six days in December 1899.

Select Bibliography

  • H. L. Roth, The Discovery and Settlement of Port Mackay, Queensland (Halifax, 1908)
  • S. K. Page and W. J. Doherty (eds), Jubilee Souvenir of InnisfaiI and District … 1873-1923 (Innisfail, 1923)
  • G. C Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisb, 1963)
  • I. N. Moles, ‘The Indian coolie labour issue in Queensland’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 5 (1953-57): Brisbane Courier, 12 Nov 1888
  • B. Kingston, Land Legislation and Administration in Queensland, 1859-1876 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1970).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Fitzgerald, Thomas Henry (1824–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fitzgerald-thomas-henry-3528/text5433, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 August 2014.

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

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