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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomson, Dugald (1849–1922)

by Ian Marsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Dugald Thomson (1849-1922), by Swiss Studios , 1900s

Dugald Thomson (1849-1922), by Swiss Studios , 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23366403

Dugald Thomson (1849-1922), merchant and politician, was born on 28 December 1849 at Camberwell, London, son of John Thomson, insurance broker, and his wife Jane, née Duncan. Migrating to South Australia in 1850, the family later moved to Victoria. Dugald was sent to England to complete his schooling and to be trained in his uncle's Liverpool business. He spent two years at sea before returning, aged 19, to Melbourne where he joined Robert Harper & Co. for whose firm he set up a branch in Sydney in 1877. Thomson was managing partner until an accident forced him to withdraw from the business in 1892. In the late 1870s, with J. P. Garvan, he had established the co-operative North Shore Steam Ferry Co. Ltd.

In 1894, as a free trader, Thomson won the Legislative Assembly seat of Warringah; he retained it in 1895 and 1898. He supported the premier, (Sir) George Reid, though objecting to measures (such as an eight-hour day for coalminers and the application to all adults of factory and shop regulations) which derived from the tacit alliance between Reid's Free-Trade ministry and Labor. Thomson also opposed the idea of a referendum to settle any deadlock between the Houses and disagreed with proposals to make government contracts conditional upon payment of union wages. He was an early advocate of bridging Sydney Harbour, preferably by a private firm.

Unwavering in support of Federation, Thomson campaigned actively against his Free-Trade colleagues in the Constitution bill referenda. He was elected to the House of Representatives for the seat of North Sydney in 1901, holding it unopposed until he retired in 1910. He was minister for home affairs (August 1904–July 1905) in the Reid-McLean government. A member of the select committee on decimal coinage (1901-02), he sat on royal commissions on the S.S. Drayton Grange (1902) and the navigation bill (1906). In 1907 he represented Australia at a merchant shipping conference in London. Holding a leading position in the Opposition, Thomson represented Reid during some of his numerous absences and remained loyal to Reid's position on the major Federal issues of conciliation and arbitration, pensions, bounties and White Australia. A common-sense, rather than eloquent, debater who was principally concerned with Australia's maritime potential, Thomson spoke frequently on navigation and customs issues, performing inexhaustibly in the tariff debates of 1902 and 1908. Respected for his 'strong convictions and eminent fairness', he was too goodnatured and straightforward to seek or exploit political advantage. When urged to nominate for the Speakership, he modestly declined.

Involved in Scottish community organizations, he was a veteran member (1887) and senior office-holder in the Highland Society. Philanthropic, and active on behalf of veterans, he was a founder of the Graythwaite Convalescent Home of Oversea Military Forces, and chairman of the North Sydney War Memorial Committee and of the King Edward Memorial Fund. Thomson died on 27 November 1922 at Kirribilli, Sydney, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Gore Hill cemetery. He was unmarried.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Magazine (Sydney), 1 Nov 1909
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 1911, 28, 29 Nov 1922
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 Oct 1911, 5 July 1915, 27 Jan 1917
  • Australasian, 21 Dec 1922
  • Crouch memoirs (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Ian Marsh, 'Thomson, Dugald (1849–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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