Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Meagher, Sir Thomas William (1902–1979)

by Lenore Layman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Sir Thomas William Meagher (1902-1979), medical practitioner and lord mayor, was born on 26 March 1902 at Menzies, Western Australia, son of Victorian-born parents Philip Meagher, cordial manufacturer, and his wife Annie, née Jennings. The family moved to West Leederville and Tom attended (1911-19) Christian Brothers' College, Perth. After completing first-year science at the University of Western Australia in 1920, he studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1925). During his four years at Newman College he competed in its athletics, football, swimming and rowing teams. He rowed bow, winning college colours in 1923. In addition, he was a member (1923-24) of the Newman students' general committee.

Returning to Western Australia, Meagher worked as a house surgeon at the Perth (1925) and Children's (1926) hospitals before establishing a general practice at Victoria Park in 1927. At the chapel of Christian Brothers' College, Perth, on 8 March that year he married Marguerite Winifred Hough (d.1952), a schoolteacher; they were to have six children. In 1937 he was elected to represent Victoria Park Ward on Perth City Council. In 1939 he was appointed lord mayor. An honorary captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve, he was declared unfit for service in World War II.

As a close friend of Prime Minister Curtin, Meagher was acutely conscious of the nation's perilous situation and Perth's wartime vulnerability. He used his position to organize and publicly lead the city's war effort. He ensured that most of the war funds set up in Perth were initiated at council chambers, with the provision of secretarial and financial assistance. In 1941-42 the city council prepared to face the threat of a Japanese invasion by concentrating its works programme on the maintenance of essential city services and building air-raid protection for the people of Perth. Meagher was active in about twenty patriotic and philanthropic war organizations, a commitment which saw him attending two or three functions on any night. In 1945, when announcing that he would not stand for re-election, he declared that his mayoralty had been 'a war-time measure'. He was knighted in 1947.

On 18 November 1953, again at C.B.C. chapel, Meagher married Doris Ita Walsh, a clerk. The pace and scope of his public activities did not decrease after the war. From the mid-1940s to the early 1970s he played a key role in a wide range of state and civil organizations. He was not only a figurehead, but an active office-bearer and skilled chairman, keen to foster development, well-informed and astute in his judgements, and prepared to use his considerable influence in Perth's government and professional circles to benefit the organizations he led. He was fortunate that his energy and public spirit were exercised through almost three decades of postwar prosperity which provided opportunities for improved urban amenities and public events.

Sir Thomas lent his status as patron to several ex-service organizations, including the State branch of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers' Association of Australia and of the Ex-Prisoners of War and Relatives Association. He was president (1955-58) of the Western Australian branch of the Royal Empire Society. While president (1945-47) of the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia, he helped to set up R.A.C. Insurance Pty Ltd and the National Safety Council of Western Australia. He was also president (1954-79) of the Kings Park Board and oversaw the introduction of new attractions to the park: a children's playground, botanic garden, annual wildflower exhibition, floral clock, memorial to pioneer women, barbecue facilities, viewing tower and lakes, as well as the completion of the State war memorial. A councillor of the Order of St John, Meagher was appointed a knight of grace in 1955. He also became involved in the management of Karrakatta cemetery (trustee from 1951, chairman 1971) and Pinnaroo Valley memorial park (trustee from 1962, chairman 1971).

As chairman of trustees (1959-73) of the Western Australian Museum, Meagher worked closely with its director David Ride to develop the museum. A new building was constructed in Francis Street to enlarge the Perth complex, the museum expanded to new sites at Fremantle and regional centres, an Aboriginal sites department was opened and maritime museum work began. Meagher remained involved in sport, particularly in the administration of amateur athletics. President (1947-71) of the Western Australian division of the Australian Olympic Federation, he served as vice-president of the State division of the Australian British Empire and Commonwealth Games Association. He was an official timekeeper for athletics at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne and chief timekeeper for athletics at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth.

In the course of all these public activities Meagher continued to practise medicine. He enjoyed fishing, yachting and gardening, and was vice-patron of the National Rose Society of Western Australia. He travelled as often as he could, making twenty-nine voyages, mainly to Asian ports, as ship's doctor. Survived by his wife, and by the four sons and two daughters of his first marriage, he died on 27 June 1979 at Shenton Park and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Dettman, A Brief History of the Royal Association of Justices of Western Australia (Inc), 1916-1967 (Perth, 1967)
  • Newman College, University of Melbourne, Newman (Melb, 1925)
  • Perth City Council, Annual Report, 1939-45
  • Western Australian Museum, Your Museum, vol 2, no 1, 1973
  • Road Patrol, 18/33, Aug 1979, p 5
  • West Australian, 14 Dec 1943, 12 June 1947, 16 Feb 1959, 29-30 June 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Lenore Layman, 'Meagher, Sir Thomas William (1902–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meagher-sir-thomas-william-11099/text19759, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 26 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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