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Brooker, Thomas Henry (1850–1927)

by Marlene J. Cross

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Thomas Henry Brooker (1850-1927), by Townsend Duryea

Thomas Henry Brooker (1850-1927), by Townsend Duryea

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 4569

Thomas Henry Brooker (1850-1927), salesman, wood-merchant and politician, was born on 30 December 1850 at Kensington, London, son of William Brooker, bricklayer, and his wife Jane, née Gemmell. On 25 April 1855 the family arrived in South Australia on the Caroline. Brooker was educated at Hindmarsh and worked for fifteen years as a salesman in Thomas Hardy's Bankside vineyard at Torrens, before opening his own business as a salesman and wood-merchant at Ridleyton. On 6 March 1870 he married Emma Tume at Hindmarsh.

Brooker helped start the local literary society in the 1870s and for over sixty years served the Robert Street Church of Christ, as Sunday school superintendant, elder and member of the home mission committee. He was a founder and director of the West Torrens Starr-Bowkett Building Society, president of the local football club, and enjoyed cricket, tennis and fishing. In 1885-91 he was a councillor, and in 1891 mayor, of the Hindmarsh corporation.

In 1890-1905 Brooker was a member of the House of Assembly, first for the district of West Torrens and from 1902 for Port Adelaide. He supported protection, free education, extension of the franchise, land settlement and water conservation. In his maiden speech he had announced that he was sent to parliament by the labouring classes and that while he might bring with him some of their 'antipathies and prejudices … he had also an honest and true heart'. Brooker maintained a humane interest in the poor: on his motion pauper garb was abolished from the Destitute Asylum and he was on the important 1892 shops and factories commission which uncovered sweated labour and recommended material changes in the Health Act to improve working conditions in factories. His colleagues nicknamed him 'Honest Tom'. He was whip for the Kingston and Holder governments and minister of education and industry in J. G. Jenkins's cabinet in 1901-02. He had successfully guided through parliament legislation to fix a scale for payment of jurors in 1891 and to facilitate the establishment of free libraries in 1902.

In 1905 Brooker was defeated as a candidate for the Central District in the Legislative Council. Since 1903 he, Joseph Vardon and William Charlick, in collaboration with the Adelaide City Council, had operated the Adelaide Fruit and Produce Exchange Co. Ltd. Brooker was its secretary until his death. It was said of the markets that the city's medical officer could have taken 'the most sensitive lady' through them at any time. Questioned about the exchange by a Victorian royal commission of 1915, Brooker asserted stoutly, 'I do not believe in a monopoly … State, municipal or private … Fair competition brings out the best results'.

Brooker was an active Freemason. A member of the board of governors of the Botanic Garden, he was chairman from 1897 to 1927. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 11 July 1927 at Norwood, survived by four daughters and two sons. He was buried in Hindmarsh cemetery. He had been admired for his piety, steadfastness and commitment to his fellow man.

Select Bibliography

  • H. R. Taylor, The History of Churches of Christ in South Australia, 1846-1959 (Adel, 1959)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1915, 2 (58)
  • Pictorial Australian (Adelaide), Jan 1885, Dec 1894
  • Observer (Adelaide), 27 Dec 1890, 6 May 1899, 16 July, 10 Sept 1927
  • Register (Adelaide), 12 July 1927.

Citation details

Marlene J. Cross, 'Brooker, Thomas Henry (1850–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 4 June 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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