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Luxton, Thomas (1850–1911)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Thomas Luxton (1850-1911), businessman, was born on 22 May 1850 at Bridgerule, Devon, England, son of James Luxton, farrier, and his wife Mary Ann, née Bassett. In 1852 the Luxtons sailed to Victoria. From Moonee Ponds they moved to the Bendigo goldfield where the father worked as a blacksmith and then opened a small grocery and a freighting business between Melbourne and Bendigo; he had some success but his intemperate habits left his family with very little when he died in 1866. Thomas left school at Ironbark to work in a Kangaroo Flat grocery for 30s. a week. A year later he joined W. D. Thomas in working a claim at Carshalton and within eighteen months their £1700 profit enabled Luxton to start as a mining speculator, helping to form the first Bendigo Stock Exchange. On 3 September 1872 Luxton married Sarah Schooling of Kyneton. He continued to live at Kangaroo Flat and was on the Marong Shire Council in 1874-77 and a guardian of St Mary's Church of England. As his stockbroking business grew Luxton gave more time and money to Bendigo's institutions. He became a life governor of the Bendigo Hospital and Asylum, a member of the United Cricket and Jockey clubs and the Agricultural and Horticultural Society and supported the Sustenation Fund founded by J. B. Watson for miners.

Luxton moved to Melbourne in the boom years describing them as a time when 'if a person only held out his hand money was placed in it'. He had bought a seat on the Melbourne Stock Exchange in 1887 and for a time was the only broker who was a member of the Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo Exchanges. In 1890 Luxton settled in East Prahran and in June 1893 was elected to the Prahran Council. The Prahran Telegraph claimed that Luxton answered the need for 'a cool, clear-headed man, one who had not been caught in the whirlpool of financial unrest'. On his election as mayor in 1894 Melbourne Punch praised him as one of the few 'who came through the disastrous “boom” unscathed' and with an improved bank balance. Known neither as a talker nor public speaker Luxton was thought unlikely by some to curb more voluble councillors, but all agreed that he, who in youth had excelled at boxing and horse-riding, would in occupying the mayoral chair fit it as well.

His years as mayor in 1894-97 were fruitful for Prahran's charitable institutions as Luxton and his wife worked tirelessly for the sick, poor and neglected. His special interest was for the blind and he was president of the Royal Victorian Blind Institute and the Victorian Association of Braille Writers. He was also chairman of the Prahran Mechanics' Institute, a commissioner of the Metropolitan Board of Works, a council member of the Melbourne Electrical Engineering School and Prahran's representative on the Prahran-Malvern Tramway Trust. He was concerned with the River Yarra improvements bill and induced Prahran to contribute £4000 for prevention of the Yarra floods. He was a firm believer in intercolonial free trade and as mayor publicly supported Federation, explaining that the saving on the consolidation of Australian loans would pay the loss on Victorian railways. In the 1890s he retained his interest in Bendigo, owning shares in gold and in the electric light and tramway companies. Indeed, most of his money was invested in the country districts and his faith in the future of agriculture led him to buy 2000 acres (809 ha) and lease 4000 acres (1619 ha) at Barr Creek on the Murray River, irrigating 300 acres (121 ha).

In 1901-02 Luxton was again mayor and then turned to politics which he had reputedly wanted for years to enter. In December 1903 he was elected to the Legislative Council for South Yarra Province and in 1904-10 represented Melbourne South. Speaking seldom and 'according to his conscience', he supported bills which helped miners. He also favoured the gaming suppression bill because betting on horses, unlike mining speculation, was of no benefit to the State. In every debate on the women's suffrage bill he sided with the ultra-conservatives.

Luxton bought the hardware businesses of McLean Bros & Rigg in 1907 and James McEwan & Co. in 1910. In the amalgamated company he was chairman and his four sons were directors. The manager proved incompetent and Luxton took over, vowing that if he were to be ruined at least he would be the cause. He soon mastered the hardware business but the strain probably affected his failing health and he died at his home, Royston, Malvern, on 5 September 1911, survived by his wife, four sons and three of his daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Prahran Telegraph, June 1893, 9 Sept 1911
  • Prahran Chronicle, 1 Sept 1894
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Sept 1911
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Sept 1911
  • Australasian Hardware and Machinery, 2 Oct 1911
  • James McEwan & Co. records (Australian National University Archives)
  • Luxton scrapbook (privately held).

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Luxton, Thomas (1850–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/luxton-thomas-4049/text6443, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 28 April 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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