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Molloy, Thomas George Anstruther (1852–1938)

by Tom Stannage

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Thomas George Anstruther Molloy (1852-1938), builder, speculator and local government politician, was born on 4 October 1852 at Toronto, Canada, son of John Molloy, a soldier who served in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, and his wife Jane, née Curtis. They migrated to the penal colony of Western Australia, John as a pensioner guard, in 1862. Thomas attended the Christian Brothers' College, Perth. After leaving school at 13, he worked in a printing office and with Joseph Reilly, a notable figure in the Perth co-operative movement and Mechanics' Institute. As manager of the city branch of the Co-operative Stores, Molloy substantially increased the Co-operative Society's assets, especially with the purchase of a central city block of land. On 18 February 1873 in Perth, he married Amelia Littlejohn Molloy; they had two daughters and a son. He worked in South Australia for two years, but from 1875 his career in Perth stabilized and prospered.

He owned and ran a baker's shop, with cottages for his employees. From 1881 he worked on the Daily News; in 1884 he became commercial manager for the West Australian. His real estate speculations in the central and western parts of the city were most profitable, especially when he bought land and hotels from James Grave's estate. His wife had died, and on 23 January 1889 he married Mary Reaney; they had two daughters.

By the mid-1890s the city's rate clerk described Molloy as being of independent means and in 1895 he was appointed justice of the peace. Next year he built the Theatre Royal, Perth's first substantial theatre and one of the city's largest buildings; it was completed by Gustave Liebe and opened on 19 April 1897. By 1904 Molloy had also built the Metropole Hotel in central Hay Street, and His Majesty's Theatre—for many years it had the largest stage in Australia—and His Majesty's Hotel further to the west of the city. By judicious selling of real estate as West Perth developed, Molloy's fortunes further increased. In 1912 the Theatre Royal was remodelled for £9000 to fulfil lease conditions made with Cosens Spencer, a Sydney movie mogul. Molloy spent most of 1913 in Britain and returned home via North America.

His class and religious background and his early contact with the co-operative movement ensured that his politics would be populist in character. He represented the West and Central wards on Perth City Council from 1884, more or less continuously, through World War I. He was mayor in 1908-09 and 1911-12. On the council Molloy was seen as radical, largely because he espoused municipal socialism, particularly in matters of gas and water supply, transport, drainage and sewerage. He sought to provide people with no-charge recreation and bathing facilities and in 1912, subtly supported by Town Clerk William Bold, he ended the Perth Gas Co.'s monopoly of the provision of the city's power and lighting. A typical contention in Molloy's annual report reads: 'The lighting of the City is a service which is created by the people, and the people should have the profits which accrue therefrom'. His term ended before he could accomplish municipal council control of Perth's transport. Despite his many attempts to be mayor again, he was thought to be too stubborn and disputatious to work with, and he failed.

In 1892 he won the seat of Perth in the Legislative Assembly. He advocated abolition of the property qualification and backed attempts to introduce manhood suffrage. Indeed, Molloy supported universal suffrage, to the annoyance of more conventional colleagues; it is believed that he introduced barmaids to Perth's hotels! At the 1894 elections his parliamentary career ended abruptly. As a Catholic he had argued for the dual system of education and against the abolition of state aid to church schools. He and the other sitting members for Perth were routed by abolitionists, and state aid to church schools ceased. Molloy was chagrined, blaming 'religious bitterness'. He stood again unsuccessfully many times between 1901 and 1932. He became a staunch member of the National Party.

Molloy was litigious and occasionally would resort to violence. In 1937 he appealed unsuccessfully to the High Court of Australia against assessments for land taxation. He became a rather mean and negligent landlord; buildings of his in St George's Terrace degenerated into slums. His second wife had died in 1925. He was anxious for a knighthood, and in 1931 was created a papal knight commander of the Order of St Gregory, after which he used the title 'Sir'. It was engraved on his tombstone in Karrakatta cemetery where he was buried after his death at Subiaco on 16 February 1938 and a requiem Mass at St Mary's Cathedral. A daughter of his second marriage survived him and inherited most of his estate, which was sworn for probate at £150,873. His will, however, led to protracted litigation.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Reilly, Reminiscences of Fifty Years Residence in Western Australia (Perth, 1903)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • L. W. Matters, Australasians Who Count in London and Who Counts in Western Australia (Lond, 1913)
  • V. Courtney, All I May Tell (Syd, 1956)
  • V. Courtney, Perth and All This (Syd, 1962)
  • C. T. Stannage, The People of Perth (Perth, 1979)
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 29 Jan 1897
  • West Australian, 6 Oct 1926, 17 Feb 1938.

Citation details

Tom Stannage, 'Molloy, Thomas George Anstruther (1852–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/molloy-thomas-george-anstruther-7616/text13309, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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