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Slattery, Thomas Michael (1844–1920)

by Bede Nairn

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

Thomas Michael Slattery (1844-1920), civil servant, solicitor and politician, was born on 17 December 1844 at Greenane, Tipperary, Ireland, son of Edmund Slattery, police officer, and his wife Alice, née Walsh. With his parents he migrated in 1849 to Ipswich, Moreton Bay District (Queensland). They moved to Sydney in 1852. He was educated at St Mary's seminary and by J. S. Paterson, with whom he later read law.

After working in the office of the Empire, in 1864 Slattery became a junior clerk in the Customs Department. Transferred to Petty Sessions then to the Supreme Court in 1870, he was chief clerk in 1874-76 and was admitted as a solicitor on 3 July 1875. He became secretary of the Barristers' Admission Board, and was prothonotary and curator of intestate estates in the Supreme Court and registrar of the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Court in 1876-80. He became a justice of the peace in 1878.

On 10 January 1867 Slattery had married Annie Genevieve O'Connor at St Mary's Cathedral. They had four children before she died in 1885; on 23 November 1886 at the cathedral he married her sister Agnes Melanie.

In 1880, after an imbroglio regarding his Supreme Court positions, Slattery entered private practice. He had become a prolix speaker with a reputation for cleverness, which was infected with fussy vanity. Attracted to politics, in November he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Boorowa, a strong Irish-Catholic area. He gradually merged with disparate political elements tending towards a loose fiscal protectionist coterie in parliament. Although prominent in the movement, he refused a portfolio in 1883, because there were two other Catholics in (Sir) Alexander Stuart's ministry—but he was minister of justice briefly in 1885. He declined another ministerial post in 1886, but became chairman of committees that year.

With J. P. Garvan, in 1875 Slattery had helped to organize the celebration of the centenary of Daniel O'Connell's birth. In the 1880s and 1890s he enlarged his public profile by membership of the State Children Relief Board (1882-92) and a directorship of Sydney Hospital (1882-87); he was also a commissioner for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London (1886), and the Centennial Celebration (1888). He was appointed a papal knight of the Order of St Gregory.

Slattery served on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works in 1888-89 and became minister of justice in (Sir) George Dibbs's cabinet of January-March 1889. His role in the growth of the protectionist group was marked by his appointment as secretary for mines and agriculture in Dibbs's government of 1891-94—he was also acting minister of justice from December 1893. He resigned from parliament in 1895 to concentrate on his practice. Slattery was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1900. In 1903 his criticism of W. P. Crick in the Catholic Press, headlined as 'The St Patrick's Day Treachery', provoked a libel action.

Chairman of Tattersall's Club, Slattery had a devoted and optimistic interest in horse-racing: one of his horses was T.M.S., known as 'Too many seconds' and 'Too much sorrow'. His haphazard handling of other people's money was quickened by his losses on the turf, and in January 1905 he was charged with malversation of £6959 entrusted to him by Mary Ellen Scanlon, a legatee of James Tyson. He was sentenced to 3½ years, but on appeal was released after serving 3½ months.

Late in 1905, accompanied by his wife, he went to the United States of America, and was in San Francisco when it was devastated by an earthquake in 1906. Returning in 1909 he lived at Mosman, where he died on 25 July 1920, survived by his wife and a son and daughter of his first marriage. He was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Administration of Justice (Mr T. M. Slattery—correspondence), Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1878-79, p 69, 1879-80, p 87
  • Town and Country Journal, 11 June 1887
  • Catholic Press, 19 Mar, 24 Sept 1903
  • Australasian, 15 Apr 1905
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 29 July 1920
  • Attorney-General and Justice Department, 7706, 1874-81 (State Records New South Wales).

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Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Slattery, Thomas Michael (1844–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/slattery-thomas-michael-8454/text14865, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 December 2014.

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

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