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Magarey, Thomas (1825–1902)

by Herbert R. Taylor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Thomas Magarey (1825-1902), by unknown photographer

Thomas Magarey (1825-1902), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B56079

Thomas Magarey (1825-1902), miller and pastoralist, was born on 25 February 1825 in County Down, Ireland, the son of James Magarey and his wife Elizabeth. He spent most of his boyhood in Lancashire, and 'was brought up to the milling business'. At 17, with his brother James, he migrated to Nelson, New Zealand, paying his own passage. In the Fifeshire he became acquainted with a number of Dissenters, who as 'United Christians' built Ebenezer Chapel and started a Sunday school and temperance society soon after landing. Their unity was disturbed by the arrival of Anglican and Wesleyan ministers, and the Nelson settlement was deeply affected by economic distress. The Magarey brothers decided to try their fortune in South Australia, their interest aroused by the importation of wheat from Adelaide. They arrived in Adelaide in September 1845. Four years later they succeeded John Ridley as owners of the Hindmarsh flour-mill. The business later passed to Thomas, who built up extensive markets locally and overseas. As his first pastoral venture he leased in 1859 the Naracoorte run, its eighty-seven sq. miles (225 km²) being capable of carrying more than 20,000 sheep besides cattle and horses. He held two other smaller south-eastern properties and more areas on Eyre Peninsula, including Tulkea at Sleaford Bay.

After his marriage Magarey made his home at Noarlunga, then moved to Hindmarsh, where in 1857 he was elected to the District Council. In 1860-63 he represented West Torrens in the House of Assembly, and then sat in the Legislative Council in 1863-65. As a legislator he championed the pastoral industry. He also advocated Bible reading in public schools. Before entering parliament he had strenuously opposed government grants to churches. He was an early joint proprietor of the Register and Observer and an original director of the Bank of Adelaide.

Magarey was reserved and severe. Indeed, to his grandchildren he seemed an alarming figure, unsmiling, with intense blue eyes under shaggy brows and with his grey hair worn long to protect an injury received in his early days at Nelson when a cart wheel damaged his head, setting up chronic neuralgia which lasted during his life. He was intensely religious. Converted to the idea of Christian unity in New Zealand, he was the first to introduce the teachings of the Churches of Christ to Adelaide. With a breakaway group from the Scotch Baptist Church he had helped to found the first Church of Christ in Australia by 1849. He endowed chapels at Hindmarsh in 1854, and in Grote Street in 1856. In 1872 he joined the Plymouth Brethren, basing his 'conversion' on a reappraisal of the doctrine of baptism.

For his last thirty years he lived on his farm near Enfield, where he installed a telescope and studied the stars. In his home he had his own apartment sealed off by a baize door and seldom emerged except for family prayers. He died at Enfield on 31 August 1902.

On 13 March 1848 he had married Elizabeth, sister of James Crabb Verco. They had ten children. The second son, Silvanus James, became prominent in the medical profession. He was in turn secretary and president of the newly formed South Australian Temperance Alliance, his pronounced views winning him a seat in 1888-97 in the Legislative Council, where he pleaded for the abolition of the liquor trade whenever he found opportunity. William Ashley Magarey, Thomas’s great-nephew, presented the Magarey Medal, awarded annually for the best and fairest player in the South Australian Football League (Australian Rules).

Select Bibliography

  • A. Saunders, Tales of a Pioneer (Christchurch, 1927)
  • H. R. Taylor, The History of Churches of Christ in South Australia (Adel, 1959)
  • Register (Adelaide), 1 Sept 1902.

Citation details

Herbert R. Taylor, 'Magarey, Thomas (1825–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/magarey-thomas-2422/text3217, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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