Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Plant, Edmund Harris Thornburgh (1844–1926)

by June Stoodley

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

Edmund Harris Thornburgh Plant (1844-1926), mine owner and politician, was born on 10 December 1844 at Nottingham, England, third son of C. Fredrick Plante, lace-thread manufacturer, and his wife Maria, née Nevill. The boys received a grammar-school education, but their father went bankrupt and at 12 Edmund left for America.

In 1861 Plant arrived penniless in Queensland, where he began work as a shepherd and at various station occupations before turning to gold prospecting at Peak Downs, then near Rockhampton (but finding no gold on Mount Morgan) and at Ravenswood. He and Thomas Jackson built Ravenswood's second crushing battery, and he thought of venturing on the Etheridge, but finally erected a mill instead at Charters Towers, where he had been one of the first to join the 1872 rush. He acquired interests in several gold mines there and on the Palmer, and in copper, tin and wolfram on other northern fields. He also bought cattle stations and sugar land near Ingham, but his main centre was Charters Towers, where he and his brother became prominent businessmen, public and social figures.

A self-taught engineer and member of the Australian Institution of Mining Engineers, Plant initiated the system of treating pyrites tailings that helped to establish the field's prosperity, and is said to have been the first to install electricity there. Gaining great wealth, he became chairman of four mining companies and a member of several other directorates, as well as of such public bodies as the Chamber of Commerce and the Hospital Board, a founder and chairman of the Water Board, chairman of the Dalrymple Divisional Board for ten years, and a member of the Townsville Harbour Board. He also joined the London Chamber of Commerce, the Royal Colonial Institute and the London Art Society on a two-year visit to London in 1888. In July 1905 he was appointed to the Queensland Legislative Council, where he watched the interests of the north. As Charters Towers gold began to cut out, he helped to secure government aid for deep-testing with diamond drills; but the field was on the decline and with it his own fortunes, as 'game to the finish', he tried to stave off the inevitable, considering it his duty to put money back into the industry that had made him wealthy. Eventually his magnificent home Thornburgh, for long a centre of social life, was sold as a school, and he retired to his Ingham property and finally to Sandgate, where he died on 28 April 1926. He was survived by six children of his marriage in 1872 to Elizabeth Esther, sister of F. C. Hodel, Townsville's first building contractor.

Plant was a keen supporter of the National Party, but with quiet determination rather than heat or aggressiveness. In business he was a heavy, knowledgeable investor of much influence; in personality described as quiet, unassuming, rather solitary, he was a good listener, completely honest and well trusted, a loyal friend and without enemies, in success unostentatious, modest, tolerant and generous, and in adversity quiet and undismayed.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 3 (Brisb, 1923)
  • G. C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisb, 1963)
  • Northern Miner, 4 Jan, 1 Dec 1886, 24 Feb 1890, 23 Mar 1903, 9 Feb 1925, 8 May 1926
  • Brisbane Courier, 29 Apr 1926
  • North Queensland Register, 3 May 1926
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 2 July 1972.

Citation details

June Stoodley, 'Plant, Edmund Harris Thornburgh (1844–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/plant-edmund-harris-thornburgh-4404/text7181, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 March 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019