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Pease, Percy (1876–1940)

by Brian F. Stevenson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Percy Pease (1876-1940), merchant and politician, was born on 29 July 1876 at Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland, England, son of Cuthbert Pease, army sergeant, and his wife Sarah Emily, née Nice. The family of eight arrived in Brisbane in January 1886, then settled at Townsville where Percy attended the newly founded West End State School.

Employed by Burns, Philp & Co. and Samuel Allen & Sons in Townsville, he became forwarding manager for Chillagoe Pty Co. at Mareeba in 1897. He briefly returned to Townsville, where he married Agnes Ellen O'Brien on 22 January 1898, but went again to Mareeba to manage the auctioneering and mercantile firm of John Cairns & Co. He presided over Chillagoe's first sale of township lots in November 1900.

Pease then held a partnership in a Cairns grocery and managed the Cairns Morning Post. About 1904 he joined his elder brother Joseph in the carrying firm (F.A.) Wright, Heaton & Co. Joseph managed the Townsville branch while Pease attended to the Cairns operations. The brothers started their general merchandise business in 1908.

His business involvements compromised his initial commitment to Labor until about 1912 when William McCormack influenced his return to Labor principles. After serving on the Cairns Harbour Board in 1915-20 and as an alderman at Cairns in 1916, Pease narrowly won the North Queensland seat of Herbert in the Legislative Assembly in 1920 and held it till 1940, with substantial majorities from 1932.

An enthusiastic advocate for the North, he was a 'valuable' and 'hard-hitting' back-bench debater during the 1920s. When Premier McCormack resigned after Labor's 1929 defeat, Pease was elected deputy to Opposition leader Forgan Smith on 8 August. When Labor was returned to power under Forgan Smith in June 1932 Pease became deputy premier and lands minister. Early in his ministry he streamlined his department by bringing the administration of land-settlement, prickly-pear lands, forestry and irrigation and water-supply under the control of the Land Administration Board. He reinstituted the principle of leasehold tenure, saying 'leasehold is the only system that gives the state an opportunity to secure effective settlement'. Although industrious, well-versed in the intricacies of his department, and longest-serving in the portfolio to that time, Pease made no other major contribution to land legislation.

He was especially interested in the lands sub-department of forestry and the stimulation of the timber industry. Timber was increasingly being logged from Crown lands because of the rapid depletion of privately owned timber holdings. The industry was also at loggerheads with the department over high royalties which had led consumers to turn to cheaper imported timbers. The government made royalty concessions so timber could be exported. In 1937 Pease travelled to the United States of America and Canada to observe administrative methods and to promote Queensland timbers.

Pease also helped to stabilize the timber industry by introducing sawmill licensing to a State which had twice the number of sawmills required. He effected a huge increase in the area of Crown land set aside for State forests, national parks and especially reforestation. During his administration the value of timber products wrested from Crown lands almost quadrupled.

Pease was acting premier twice during long overseas absences of Forgan Smith, as well as for several shorter periods. Although an acerbic and at times aggressive debater, he was 'by nature of a sunny and amiable disposition'. Illness forced him in May 1940 to seek leave from parliament and he died of cancer in Cairns Hospital on 17 September. Pease was buried with Catholic rites in Cairns cemetery after the first state funeral in Queensland beyond Brisbane. He was survived by his wife (to whom he left a small estate), one son and four daughters. He is commemorated by a tablet in rock-face on the highest point of Kirrama Range Road beyond Cardwell, and a memorial stone at Pease Park, Innisfail.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Jones, Cardwell Shire Story (Brisb, 1961)
  • C. Lack (ed), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power (Brisb, 1979)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1932, p 163, 1485, 1936, p 118
  • Cairns Post, 7, 8 Apr 1920, 18 Sept 1940
  • Evening Advocate (Innisfail), 13 July 1955.

Citation details

Brian F. Stevenson, 'Pease, Percy (1876–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pease-percy-8005/text13949, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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