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Groom, William Henry (1833–1901)

by D. B. Waterson

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

William Henry Groom (1833-1901), by Paul C. Poulsen

William Henry Groom (1833-1901), by Paul C. Poulsen

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23431703

William Henry Groom (1833-1901), politician, publicist and newspaper-owner, was baptized on 7 April 1833 at Plymouth, England, son of Thomas Groom, cordwainer, and his wife Maria, née Harkcom. After primary schooling he was apprenticed to a baker. On 26 October 1846 he was convicted of stealing and sentenced at the Plymouth Quarter Sessions to seven years' transportation. From Pentonville he was sent to Sydney in the Hashemy and arrived in Sydney on 8 June 1849. He was conditionally pardoned in October and worked near Bathurst. Later, on the Turon diggings, he became a shop assistant. By 1853 he was assistant manager of Byrnes & Co., Sofala, and correspondent of the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal. In March Groom was a delegate of the Turon Miners' Committee to a meeting at Bathurst in protest against licence fees. Although credited with 'good moral conduct, strict honesty and sobriety, and good character' Groom was accused of stealing gold on 12 December 1854. The charge was dismissed but he initiated libel proceedings. He appeared at the Bathurst Circuit Court on 28 February 1855 and was sentenced to road labour for three years. On his release he migrated to Queensland where in August 1856 he set up as a store-keeper and auctioneer at Drayton. He was financed by a Cornishman, John Thomas Littleton, whose sister Grace (b.8 June 1838) he married in 1859. The business prospered and in 1862 Groom acquired the Royal Hotel, Toowoomba; despite insolvency in 1866 he bought another hotel. In 1872 he built a store and hotel at Stanthorpe but returned to Toowoomba in 1874 and bought a share in the Toowoomba Chronicle. As sole proprietor in 1876-1901 he made it the most powerful newspaper on the Darling Downs. In 1861 he became Toowoomba's first mayor, an office he later held five times, and had long association with many other local authorities and societies.

On 11 August 1862 Groom won a by-election for Drayton and Toowoomba in the Legislative Assembly. Apart from an interlude in 1866 he held his seat until elected first Federal member for Darling Downs in 1901. This record was unequalled in Queensland politics, but he was never a key Brisbane figure and seldom influential. Although able and acceptable as Speaker in 1883-88 he held no executive office and his main contributions to the colony's affairs were his consistent agrarian radicalism and membership of the royal commissions on the sugar industry in 1889 and crown lands in 1897. He succeeded in satisfying the material needs and advancing the causes of his electorate while maintaining a balance between its differing sections. Selectors, artisans, Germans and Irish all constantly supported him despite his leadership of the Darling Downs 'bunch'. However, the importance of this group had been overestimated; it had little effect on colonial policy and was never a cohesive body. Groom could not retain the loyalty of his protégés and the Downs as a whole, and the rise of Labor, coupled with the Griffith-McIlwraith coalition which he never accepted, alienated him from major political influence.

Groom's main legislative interest was land policy and his radicalism was always of the country rather than the town. An advocate of self-improvement through education, hard work and self-denial, he reiterated that moral virtue was rewarded with material blessings. Believing that progress was an immutable law of nature, he claimed that advance on the Downs meant replacement of large pastoral estates by the settlement of a contented yeomanry. He advocated free selection on the American pattern and in 1868 successfully sponsored the inclusion of homestead clauses in the Land Act. In 1877 he campaigned for larger homesteads and in 1883 adopted the principle of a minimum economic acreage for the family farm. Despite his optimism most selectors were soon in difficulties from lack of capital, credit, markets, transport facilities and uncertain world prices. Groom's panacea was agricultural protection, a policy he finally succeeded in persuading the Queensland parliament to accept.

Groom died in Melbourne on 8 August 1901 and was buried in the Anglican section of the Toowoomba cemetery. He was survived by his wife who died on 22 January 1932 and by four sons and three daughters. One son, Sir Littleton Ernest Groom (1867-1936), succeeded him as member of the House of Representatives for Darling Downs, and another, Henry Littleton Groom (1860-1926), served in the Queensland Legislative Council for sixteen years.

Select Bibliography

  • A Life's Work: 34 Years in Parliament: What Mr. Groom has Done for Toowoomba (Toowoomba, 1895?)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • D. B. Waterson, ‘The Remarkable Career of Wm. H. Groom’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 49, part 1, June 1963, pp 38-57
  • Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse Herald, 25 July, 31 Oct 1846
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Dec 1854
  • Toowoomba Chronicle, 9 Aug 1901
  • Brisbane Courier, 9 Aug 1901
  • M. Cameron, W. H. Groom: Agrarian Liberal (B.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1965).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Groom, William Henry (1833–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/groom-william-henry-3675/text5741, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 August 2017.

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

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