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John George Appel (1859–1929)

by J. C. H. Gill

This article was published:

John George Appel (1859-1929), lawyer, farmer and politician, was born at South Brisbane on 15 March 1859, son of George Appel and his wife Maria Jane, née Haussmann, the first European female born at the German Mission at Zions Hill (Nundah), Moreton Bay.

After primary education at the Normal School, Adelaide Street, Brisbane, he became at 10 a foundation scholar of the Brisbane Grammar School. From there he went to a private school conducted by Rev. D. A'Court. Passing the preliminary examination for solicitors of the Supreme Court of Queensland, he was articled on 3 June 1875 to G. V. Hellicar of Thompson & Hellicar. Some of his five-year articles were served with Thompson, Foxton & Harvard. He later read in the chambers of F. ff. Swanwick, barrister-at-law. Aged 20, he passed his finals but had to wait until he came of age to be admitted, on 3 August 1880. Meanwhile he had married Ruth, only child of the wealthy James Sutherland of Hill Side, Breakfast Creek, Brisbane, on 18 March 1879.

Appel practised in Brisbane and when James Howard Gill, who married Appel's sister Annie Louise, began practice in Ipswich, the two became partners, with Appel conducting the head office. When Gill became crown solicitor on 7 May 1885, Appel worked alone until 1887 when he went to Townsville on account of ill health. He stayed there until 1889 when he abandoned the law for a farm in upper Nerang Valley. Despite residence in Townsville he was master of the Brisbane-based North Australian Lodge No. 1, United Grand Lodge of Queensland, in 1888-89.

Appel's two homes were Windermere at Hamilton and Sea Glint at Elston (now the heart of Surfers Paradise) near his farming and dairying interests at Glencoe, upper Nerang. He was a member of the Hamilton Shire Council in 1890-1908 and was chairman twice; after Hamilton became a municipality he was twice mayor. In 1902 he also became a member for six years of the Nerang Shire Council. Appel attended many conferences of the Local Authorities Association of Queensland after its foundation in 1896. He was a long-serving president of the Southport Horticultural and Agricultural Association, and a member of the Queensland Fish Board.

Appel stood in 1893 for the electorate of Nundah as an Independent Liberal Democrat but was defeated. Fourteen years later, supporting Robert Philp, he failed to win Albert, then based on Southport. He won the seat in February 1908 by a handsome majority and retained it until his death in 1929.

Appel joined William Kidston's ministry on 29 October 1908 as secretary for mines and public works and found his true métier as home secretary on 29 June 1909. After the mines portfolio was returned to him on 22 October, he held both portfolios under Kidston and later Digby Denham until 26 February 1915 when, at odds with Denham, he avoided dismissal by a strategic resignation. Although C. A. Bernays asserts that Appel loved being a minister and regarded the home secretaryship as his own, he was never again in power. Health legislation and codification of the Local Authorities Act and amendments were his most considerable achievements. Because of his long and intimate knowledge of local government he was called the 'Local Authorities Home Secretary'. Appel was early involved in the Farmers' Parliamentary Union (Liberal members representing rural electorates), the forerunner of the Country Party in Queensland. After the 1915 election he led this body in the Legislative Assembly until 1918.

Appel was famous for his tours in the government steamer Otter; in 1914 one such trip went as far north as Daru on the coast of south-western Papua. His yacht Alert was well known in Moreton Bay, the Southport Broadwater and the Nerang River. He was deeply interested in The Southport School and gave a prize for dux of the school, which was later endowed as a memorial to him and is still given. He was a gifted amateur singer with a wide following. He died on 19 March 1929 at Clayfield from drinking tainted water at Sea Glint some weeks before, survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.

Premier McCormack saw him as a broadminded, generous man with a genial temperament. A. E. Moore, his party leader, said he was a big-hearted, simple gentleman; honorable, generous and kindly to a fault. Spencer Browne noticed 'the soul of an artist, the heart of a child, and the strength of a Greek wrestler'.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Stephensen (ed), Annals of the Brisbane Grammar School 1869-1922 (Brisb, 1923)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland: Our Seventh Political Decade, 1920-1930 (Syd, 1931)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Brisbane Courier, 30 Oct 1908, 24 Feb 1915, 20 Mar 1929
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 24-27 Feb 1915
  • ED/3/64-113, 1870-78 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

J. C. H. Gill, 'Appel, John George (1859–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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