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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thompson, John Malbon (1830–1908)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

John Malbon Thompson (1830-1908), lawyer and politician, was born in Sydney on 24 December 1830, son of John Thompson, deputy surveyor general, and his wife Anne Mary, daughter of Charles Windeyer. Educated at Sydney College and W. T. Cape's school, he was trained as a solicitor, was admitted to practice in 1853 and entered a partnership with Richard H. Way.

In 1857 Thompson set up a practice at Ipswich in the Moreton Bay District where he took part in the volunteer movement and was elected to the first municipal council in April 1860. On 29 November 1863 he married Clara Georgiana Bedwell at Paterson, New South Wales. When she died soon afterwards, he married Louisa Gadsden at Ipswich in 1867. In June 1866 he joined Lewis Thomas in a coal-mining venture but after disputes sold out to Thomas in June 1870. Thompson continued to let coal lands to tribute miners.

In September 1868 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Ipswich and soon became chairman of committees. Described as 'a liberal whose moderation has been interpreted as weakness', he became secretary for lands in (Sir) Arthur Palmer's first ministry in May 1870. While in office he succeeded in carrying the Homestead Areas Act. He became minister for public works in July 1873 and in January 1874 went out of office with the government. He became minister for justice in the first McIlwraith ministry in January 1877 but because of his junior status the legal profession organized powerful opposition at the ministerial elections.

Because of his devotion to his electorate Thompson soon found himself disagreeing with his colleagues. Disillusioned by retrenchment of public servants at Ipswich in May, he resigned as minister and joined the opposition; he was called to the Bar on 1 June 1880. When his wife's health declined he resigned his seat on 27 August 1881, sold his Queensland interests and returned to Sydney where he became a partner of J. E. V. Nott, solicitor, and indulged in dilettante writing. He married Mary Harriett Montague Russell on 9 December 1896. Survived by his only child, a daughter from his first marriage, he died in Sydney of heart disease on 30 May 1908 and was buried in the Church of England section of Waverley cemetery. He left an estate valued for probate at £4786.

Select Bibliography

  • R. S. Browne, A Journalist's Memories (Brisb, 1927)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1877, 3, 591
  • Brisbane Courier, 3, 10 Feb 1879
  • Queenslander, 8, 15 Feb 1879
  • Australasian Sketcher, 15 Mar 1879
  • Bulletin, 13 June 1903
  • Truth (Sydney), 31 May 1908
  • Palmer-McIlwraith papers (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Thompson, John Malbon (1830–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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