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Foxton, Justin Fox Greenlaw (1849–1916)

by D. B. Waterson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Justin Fox Greenlaw Foxton (1849-1916), by Elliott & Fry, 1900s

Justin Fox Greenlaw Foxton (1849-1916), by Elliott & Fry, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23638709

Justin Fox Greenlaw Foxton (1849-1916), politician, barrister and soldier, was born on 24 September 1849 in Melbourne, son of Captain John Greenlaw Foxton, accountant and former naval officer, and his wife Isabel Elizabeth, née Potts. Captain Foxton had been navigation officer of the Hopewell during an 1833-34 expedition to the Antarctic and had settled in Port Phillip in 1841. Educated privately and at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1859-62), Justin went in 1864 to Queensland and after jackerooing was articled to J. M. Thompson of Ipswich, being admitted to the Bar in 1871. Next year he went to Stanthorpe, establishing a lucrative tinfield practice before moving to a Brisbane partnership with Thompson in 1878. He built The Priory, Indooroopilly, and afterwards lived at Bulimba.

Foxton held the Legislative Assembly seat of Carnarvon from 1883 until 1904 when he refused to support the Morgan coalition. His electioneering 'ploys' included persuading a coach driver to 'lose' his passengers—all political opponents—on the way to polls, and smashing railway gates, deliberately closed against a trainload of his Brisbane supporters at Stanthorpe station. He served as secretary for public lands in 1896-98 during the Nelson and Byrnes ministries, and again from April to September 1903; he was home secretary under Dickson and Philp from October 1898 to April 1903. Federal member for Brisbane in 1906-10, he was honorary minister for ten months in Deakin's third government.

When lands minister, Foxton consolidated the complex Queensland land laws in the Land Act of 1897. The two most significant pieces of Queensland legislation which he initiated, however, were the Factories and Shops Act of 1900, which regulated conditions of employment, hours of work and child labour, and, more importantly, the 1901 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act. This Act, the first effective such measure in Queensland, implemented a system of policed missions and reserves and stopped some female exploitation. Foxton had come to believe that 'as a matter of strict morals our obligations to the Aboriginals … are of a higher, more exacting nature than those we owe to our own … We are the interlopers, not they'; he also believed in the 'civilizing' influence of religious instruction.

In the Commonwealth parliament Foxton was a staunch anti-socialist, a fervent States-righter, a keen advocate of black labour for developing northern Australia, and a shrewd representative of the Brisbane mercantile community. Although in favour of a restricted franchise—'there should be a distinct line drawn between those who have a stake in the country and those who have not'—he supported female enfranchisement. His role in the creation of the Australian fleet remains his greatest claim to remembrance. A faithful and effective conduit of Deakin's ideas and wishes, he, together with (Sir) W. T. Bridges and (Sir) W. R. Creswell, represented Australia at the 1909 Imperial Defence Conference in London when the principle of a separate Australian unit within the Empire's projected Pacific Fleet was agreed to. Foxton was an outspoken defender of Empire, with fear of an Asian invasion always at the back of his mind. Deakin was generous in his praise of his loyal colleague, but he did not recommend him for the K.C.M.G. which he sought. After his defeat in 1910 Foxton continued his law practice with the firm Foxton, Hobbs & Macnish.

Foxton was usually known, both formally and satirically, as 'Colonel' Foxton, a title he gained by over thirty years service in the militia; he ended his military career in 1912 as commandant of the Queensland Brigade of the Field Artillery with the C.M.G. (1903) and the Volunteer Officers' Decoration. He once routed his own troops when he drove on to the parade ground at Lytton in Queensland's first motor car. The horses bolted when the car backfired. In 1909 he was aide-de-camp to the governor-general. Although never smelling gunpowder, Foxton was a brave man. In 1884 he was awarded the Royal Humane Society's certificate of merit for saving a woman from drowning at St Kilda pier, Melbourne. Seven years later his attempt to rescue two sisters from the flooding Brisbane River gained him the society's bronze medal.

Foxton, whose other sobriquet 'Chinese' Foxton referred to his employment of Chinese tobacco-workers at his Texas property, was a handsome, upright, nattily dressed figure, with thick drooping black moustache, receding hairline and domed forehead. Aloof and legalistic, he irritated his political opponents with his caustic cynicism. Nevertheless he was a first-class administrator at a time when innovation was at a discount and strict economy the political virtue.

Keenly interested in cricket and yachting, he was president of the Queensland Cricket Association and from 1907 a member of the Australian Cricket Board of Control. He helped found the Historical Society of Queensland and was grand registrar of the United Grand Lodge of Queensland.

Foxton died of cerebro-vascular disease at South Brisbane on 23 June 1916, and was buried in Toowong cemetery after Church of England rites. He was survived by his wife, Emily Mary, née Panton, whom he had married at Ipswich on 19 November 1874, and by two sons serving in the Australian Imperial Force and a daughter. Unwise speculations, including a directorship of the failed Metropolitan Land and Building Society, reduced his estate at probate to only £2040.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty (1859-1919) Years (Brisb, nd, 1919)
  • N. Meaney, A History of Australian Defence and Foreign Policy, 1901-23, vol 1 (Syd, 1976)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1909, p 6665, 6735
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1894, p 727, 1900, p 1950, 1901, p 201
  • JRQHS, 5 Oct 1918, p 32
  • Brisbane Courier, 7 Apr 1910, 24 June 1916
  • Queenslander, 1 July 1916
  • L. D. Atkinson, Australian Defence Policy: a Study of Empire and Nation (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1964)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (MS, 1540/15/833-1381, National Library of Australia)
  • A. Foxton, The Foxton family papers (manuscript, State Library of Queensland and Queensland Women's Historical Assn, Brisbane).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Foxton, Justin Fox Greenlaw (1849–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/foxton-justin-fox-greenlaw-6230/text10719, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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