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Thomas Drinkwater Chataway (1864–1925)

by K. H. Kennedy

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with James Vincent Chataway

James Vincent Chataway (1852-1901), and Thomas Drinkwater Chataway (1864-1925), newspaper proprietors and politicians, were sons of Rev. James Chataway and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Drinkwater. Born on 6 September 1852 at Aston, Warwickshire, England, and educated at Winchester College, James abandoned plans to enter the Indian Civil Service when his health failed, and migrated instead to Victoria in 1873. After ten years pastoral experience throughout the eastern colonies, he settled at Mackay, Queensland, as partner in an auctioneering and livery-stable business. Turning to journalism in late 1883, he became editor of the Mackay Mercury and, with W. G. Hodges, purchased the paper in 1886.

James acquired an interest in the Eton plantation and was soon identified with Mackay's sugar lobby, which supported North Queensland separation until 1892 when Sir Samuel Griffith reintroduced Pacific islands labour, which James believed was fundamental to the industry's prosperity. He toured Egypt in 1889 to study sugar-cane cultivation, and in 1892 established the Sugar Journal and Tropical Cultivator; his brother was editor and manager.

Elected to represent Mackay in the Legislative Assembly in April 1893, he emerged as a leading spokesman for the Farmers' Union. He was appointed to the ministry in February 1898, as minister without portfolio, by H. M. Nelson, possibly to circumvent the formation of a separate country party. On 2 March 1898 he became secretary for agriculture and held the portfolio, except for the seven days of the A. Dawson ministry, until his death three years later. Temporary responsibility for the ministry of public lands for nearly six months from October 1898 was no doubt connected with his membership of the 1897 royal commission on land settlement. A competent minister, Chataway sponsored several significant progressive measures. The Slaughtering Act of 1898 licensed slaughter-houses and required regular inspections to prevent the marketing of tubercular meat; the Agricultural Bank Act of 1898 provided for improvement loans up to £800 to individual farmers; and the Sugar Experiment Stations Act created research laboratories at Mackay, Bundaberg and Ayr.

James was a member of many local organizations and held a commission in the Mackay Mounted Infantry. When he died of heart disease at South Brisbane on 12 April 1901, he was survived by his wife Jessie Carlyle, née Little, whom he had married in Brisbane on 8 December 1882, and by two sons and two daughters. He was buried in Cleveland cemetery after a state funeral.

Thomas Chataway followed his brother into both journalism and politics. Born on 6 April 1864 at Wartling, Sussex, and educated at Charterhouse, Thomas arrived in Sydney in 1881, worked on the Liverpool Plains for a year, and moved to Habana near Mackay where he was engaged as a sugar-boiler until offered a post on the Mackay Mercury in 1886. By 1896 he was editor and manager of the Mercury and the Sugar Journal and Tropical Cultivator, and in 1905 concluded an amalgamation of the Mercury and the Mackay Chronicle to form the Daily Mercury, which he eventually sold in 1911.

Active in municipal affairs, he was mayor of the town in 1904-06 before successfully standing for the Senate on the anti-socialist ticket in December 1906. Politically conservative and ardently protectionist, he had agitated in the late 1880s for the reintroduction of Pacific islands labour, and nearly two decades later unsuccessfully petitioned the Commonwealth government to contract European migrants for the cane fields. Understandably, he clashed regularly with Thomas Givens in parliament over white labour in the sugar industry. He consistently argued for agricultural bounties to counterbalance tariff protection for southern manufactures. As a member of the parliamentary printing committee and of the 1909 select committee on press cable services, he was the Senate's acknowledged authority on the press, posts and telegraphs. Serving only one term, he was defeated in 1913.

Chataway was employed in Sydney in 1916 as secretary to the Federal leader of the Opposition. In 1917 Senator E. D. Millen asked for his services as a personal assistant when taking responsibility for repatriation. After the war Chataway returned to journalism in Melbourne. He died of arteriosclerosis at Toorak on 5 March 1925, survived by his wife Anna Maria, née Altereith, whom he had married at Rockhampton on 8 November 1890, and by two sons and a daughter. He was buried in Brighton cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1907-08, 38, p2635
  • Government Gazette (Queensland), 1 Aug 1896
  • Sugar Journal and Tropical Cultivator, 15 Aug 1901
  • Brisbane Courier, 13 Apr 1901, 6 Mar 1925
  • Mackay Mercury, 14 Apr 1901
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay, Queensland), 7 Mar 1925
  • J. A. Nilsson, History of Mackay, the Sugar Town 1862-1915 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1963)
  • Corporate Affairs, Registers 78 book 10 (Brisbane)
  • CP601/1, 1917-19 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

K. H. Kennedy, 'Chataway, Thomas Drinkwater (1864–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 30 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 April, 1864
Wartling, Sussex, England


5 March, 1925 (aged 60)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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