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Thrower, Thomas Henry (1870–1917)

by Bede Nairn

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

Thomas Henry Thrower (1870-1917), by unknown photographer, 1915

Thomas Henry Thrower (1870-1917), by unknown photographer, 1915

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 16321

Thomas Henry Thrower (1870-1917), upholsterer and politician, was born on 28 June 1870 at Surry Hills, Sydney, son of Frederick Thrower, a bootmaker from London, and his native-born wife Mary Anne, née Comerford. Thomas attended Shoalhaven Public School and at 15 went to Sydney with his family; he hoped to study law, but was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker. W. A. Holman was a workmate: they formed a lasting friendship.

A keen debater, Thrower honed his skills in the Catholic Young Men's Debating Club at St Peter's Church, Surry Hills. In the late 1880s he was involved in the amalgamation of several associated trades into the United Furniture Trade Society which faced strong competition from Chinese working more than the standard forty-eight hours a week at less than the union's pay rates. Thrower joined the Labor Party in 1891 and was a delegate on the Trades and Labor Council of New South Wales.

By 1900 he had been secretary and president of his union, vice-president and secretary of the Eight Hour (Day) Committee, and had become one of the leading unionists of the colony. When the T.L.C. was re-formed in February 1900 as the Sydney Labor Council, he became its first president and was secretary in 1901-04. On 30 January 1901 at St Peter's Church he married Catherine Newman. That year he told the royal commission investigating the operation of the factories and workshop law of Victoria that furniture workers in Sydney were still 'considerably' affected by Chinese who outnumbered 'European' cabinetmakers and worked about '60 hours' a week.

Thrower widened his Labor Party experience by membership of the central executive committee in 1900; he was also a member in 1902-06, 1908 and 1914-15. With political ambitions, he ran unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly at a by-election for Tamworth in April 1903 and for East Sydney against (Sir) George Reid at the Federal general election in December. Thrower won the State seat of Macquarie next year; defeated in 1907, he regained it in 1910 and held it until his death.

As a country member who had vacated his city power base, Thrower could not rally sufficient support to enter the Labor cabinet; but he was chairman of committees in 1914-17, and was adept in the procedures and rules of the assembly. Generous and circumspect, he played an important role in consolidating his party's general electoral appeal in New South Wales. He bridged country and trade union interests, helping to ensure that rural issues were not overlooked and that contacts with the Labor Council were maintained. In addition, he stressed the significance of the Federal branch.

Opposed to conscription, Thrower did not follow Holman in 1916 when he was expelled and formed a National government. Holman, however, resisted pressure to campaign against him in Macquarie at the March 1917 elections. Thrower suffered severely from chronic nephritis from late 1915. He died at Redfern on 21 June 1917, survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter, and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’ (Melb, 1986)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Victoria), 1902-03, 2 (31)
  • Australian Worker, 20 Aug 1904
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Feb 1913, 9 Jan 1914, 22 June 1917
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 28 June 1917.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Thrower, Thomas Henry (1870–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thrower-thomas-henry-8807/text15447, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 29 November 2014.

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

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