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Throssell, George (1840–1910)

by Donald S. Garden

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

George Throssell (1840-1910), by unknown photographer, 1890s

George Throssell (1840-1910), by unknown photographer, 1890s

State Library of Western Australia, 008867D

George Throssell (1840-1910), merchant and premier, was born on 24 May 1840 at Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland, son of (George) Michael Throssell, mail clerk, and his wife Jane. As a guard in the convict transport Scindian, Michael brought his family to Western Australia in 1850 and became a sergeant of police in Perth. George was sent to school. With the death of his mother in 1854 and his father in 1855, he found himself rearing a younger brother and sister. He sailed to Adelaide, sent them on to Sydney to be raised by a relation, and returned alone and poor to Perth. Having joined Walter Padbury's mercantile firm, he spent evenings at the Swan River Literary and Debating Society where Joseph Reilly extended his education. About 1860, while manager of the firm's premises at Guildford, Throssell met Anne Morrell, daughter of an early settler and farmer in the Northam district; George married Anne on 6 June 1861 in St George's Cathedral, Perth.

Next year Throssell opened his own store in Northam's main street. Combining financial expertise, hard work and drive, he became the region's most successful businessman. He gave credit to small-farmers, bought and sold stock, crops and sandalwood, speculated in land and was a building contractor. As the dominating personality in the community life of the district he loved, he dreamed of opening the country to small-farmers. An active Anglican, he was a foundation member of Northam Mechanics' Institute and of the local temperance movement and lodges. He sat on the School Board, Road Board, Farmers' Club and Settlers' Association. A founder of Northam Municipal Council in 1879, he was mayor in 1887-94. Partly due to Throssell, Northam gained a branch of the Avon Valley railway in 1886.

From 1890 he represented Northam in the new Legislative Assembly, holding the seat until 1904 and only once being opposed in five elections. He supported (Sir) John Forrest's government and influenced the decision in 1892 to choose Northam as the starting point of the railway to the eastern goldfields. The town grew to be the principal centre of the Avon Valley and that made Throssell wealthy; his enterprises expanded into pastoral and metropolitan ventures. In parliament he advocated land reform, supporting the 1893 Homesteads Act and the 1894 Agricultural Bank Act. As commissioner for crown lands from March 1897, he used the 1896 Homesteads Land Purchase Act to enable the government to acquire and subdivide a number of large estates.

'The lion of Northam' had the luxuriant silver hair of a patriarch, a buoyant and assertive optimism and 'a habit of placing a hand on your shoulder when speaking'. He kept a shrewd eye on the main chance. Deafness led him to construct a large cardboard 'sounding-board' which he held against his chest with one corner of it in his mouth: he rid himself of tedious deputations by removing it to terminate the interview. He succeeded Forrest as premier on 15 February 1901, but Throssell's government was short-lived. Although a competent administrator, he was not a strong political leader and his deafness imposed limitations. The factions supporting his party drifted apart and Throssell lost his majority. At the April election many of his followers lost their seats. On 27 May he resigned and returned to the back-bench.

Three years later he retired to Fermoy, his mansion on the hill overlooking Northam. His wife died in 1906. Next year Throssell won the Legislative Council seat of East Province and in 1909 was appointed C.M.G. He fell down a staircase at his home, jarring his spine, died four days later on 30 August 1910 and was buried in Northam cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £50,879. He was survived by six daughters and five sons of his fourteen children, the most famous of whom was Hugo Throssell.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • Truthful Thomas, Through the Spy-Glass (Perth, 1905)
  • O. L. B., George Throssell, an Appreciation (Northam, WA, 1910)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 2 (Adelaide, 1913)
  • J. Kirwan, My Life's Adventure (Lond, 1936)
  • D. S. Garden, Northam, an Avon Valley History (Melb, 1979)
  • Western Australian Bulletin, 9 June 1888
  • Northam Advertiser, 19 Aug 1905, 23 May 1906, 17 Aug 1907, 31 Aug, 17 Sept 1910
  • Western Mail (Perth), 10 Sept 1910
  • E. Bartlett-Day, Reminiscences (manuscript, State Library of Western Australia)
  • G. Throssell estate papers (manuscript, State Library of Western Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Donald S. Garden, 'Throssell, George (1840–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/throssell-george-8805/text15443, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 2 August 2014.

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

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