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Garrett, Thomas (1830–1891)

by G. A. Price

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

Thomas Garrett (1830-1891), by unknown photographer

Thomas Garrett (1830-1891), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 09468

Thomas Garrett (1830-1891), politician, newspaper proprietor and land agent, was born on 15 July 1830 at Liverpool, England, son of John Garrett and his wife Sarah, née Stafford. On 12 November 1840 he reached Sydney with his parents, bounty immigrants, in the Argyleshire. Educated by his father, he was bound at 11 to a printer; he soon ran away to sea in H.M.S. Fly but was returned to complete his time. As a journeyman he worked on the Goulburn Herald, Atlas and Argus before trying the goldfields. After three years in the Government Printing Office, Sydney, he and W. F. Cahill founded the Illawarra Mercury at Wollongong in 1855. In 1860 with his father he started the Alpine Pioneer and Kiandra Advertiser and in 1861 the Manaro Mercury and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser. He sold his share in the Illawarra Mercury in 1867, formed a partnership with George F. Pickering and for about two years produced the lusty Bell's Life in Sydney. He then turned to share-broking and agency work.

Garrett never used the liberal political comment in his newspapers to further his own or his father's political careers. In 1860 he had won the Monaro seat as the acknowledged lieutenant of (Sir) John Robertson and in 1864 Shoalhaven, his father's old electorate. In 1865-69 he was chairman of committees and parliamentary whip and in 1870 was reputed to have engineered with John Davies the coalition between Robertson and Sir James Martin. In 1867 he joined Orange Lodge No.2, and in 1869 was suspended for the non-payment of dues but continued to flirt with Orangeism. In July 1871 Garrett resigned to become police magistrate at Berrima but, despite a loan of £200 from Robertson, his estate was sequestrated on 24 February 1872; he owed £2846. Although his certificate of discharge was not issued until September 1887 he represented Camden in the Legislative Assembly in 1872-91. An active legislator and a powerful debater he was 'prominent without having a following of any kind' but many doubted his 'political rectitude'. In the 1870s he became a mining speculator and land agent.

In February 1875 Garrett was rewarded by Robertson with the lands portfolio where his administrative skill firmly established the new Courts created by the Crown Lands Amendment Act which he had tactfully and expertly piloted through the assembly. Overworked and drinking too much, he resigned from the ministry in February 1877 after a censure motion against him was narrowly defeated. He helped to bring down (Sir) Henry Parkes's government in August, joined Robertson's new ministry but again resigned; rumour held that no cabinet containing Garrett could retain the confidence of the assembly. In 1878 he visited England and America. His growing intemperance may have caused his long spell on the back benches. Early in 1883 he tried to form a 'third party', but by July 1888 when Parkes had to ask him to resign as secretary for lands he was probably an alcoholic.

Garrett's skill as a parliamentary tactician was greatest in adversity. In 1875 he had routed Parkes who charged him with corrupt appointments and he survived a select committee inquiry into an alteration of the 'Report of the Examiner of Coal Fields, on land leased by Messrs Garrett and Greville'. In 1881 he was even more hard pressed when accused of complicity in seeking compensation for Ezekiel Baker's Milburn Creek Copper Mining Co., for which he had bought shares at call and helped to destroy all written evidence of the deal. Robertson resigned from office in defence of his friend and Parkes's expulsion motion was only narrowly defeated, but in the 1880s John McElhone's repeated questions revealed that Garrett had over 68,000 acres (27,519 ha) of mineral leases on much of which he paid no rent. He was also a director of the Wickham and Bullock Island Coal Co. Ltd.

Garrett died at Newtown on 25 November 1891 from softening of the brain and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by three sons of his first wife Mary Ann, née Creagan, whom he had married on 30 September 1856, a son by his second wife Marcia, née Grocott, and by his third wife Elizabeth, née McPhillamy, and two infant sons. His estate was valued at £14,816.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • P. Loveday and A. W. Martin, Parliament Factions and Parties (Melb, 1966)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1875-76, 4, 735, 1881, 1, 241, 3, 558, 633, 1883-84, 4, 561, 1887-88, 8, 263
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 27 June 1874
  • Town and Country Journal, 27 Mar 1875, 29 Jan 1887
  • Australasian, 26 Apr 1879
  • Bulletin, 6 Apr 1881
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/577, 581, 583-84, 587, 591, 595, 597-98.

Citation details

G. A. Price, 'Garrett, Thomas (1830–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/garrett-thomas-3596/text5575, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 28 August 2014.

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

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