Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alexander Corran (1861–1940)

by Margaret Lawrie

This article was published:

Alexander Corran (1861-1940), printer and newspaper editor, was born on 17 November 1861 at West Derby, Lancashire, England, son of William Corran, printer, and his wife Margaret, née Gill, both from the Isle of Man. Having learned his trade, Alexander migrated to New South Wales in 1883 and subsequently shifted to Queensland. At East Brisbane on 3 June 1885 he married Manx-born Mary Ann Kelly with the forms of the Churches of Christ; they were to have four children. A first-class printer, he worked in various Brisbane offices until 1893 when the bank crashes and the depression forced him into bankruptcy. He moved north and was briefly editor of the Gladstone and Port Curtis Advertiser before settling on Thursday Island in 1896. Corran took over the Torres Straits Pilot and New Guinea Gazette, a four-page weekly newspaper. From 1914 he gradually replaced it with the daily Pilot, a single quarto sheet, printed only on one side, said to be 'the smallest newspaper in the world'. He continued to edit it until his death.

In 1897 Corran gave evidence before a Queensland parliamentary commission inquiring into the regulation of the pearl-shell and bêche-de-mer fisheries. His submission directly attributed economic depression at Thursday Island to the introduction of Japanese workers about 1892. Although the shelling industry had prospered, wages once spent locally were now largely sent to Japan, and, in what was to be his reiterated refrain, Corran declared that 'money is sent out of the country which should be spent here'. He advertised in the Pilot to undertake all classes of job printing 'to stop Work being sent away from the Island, and Money leaving the District'. By mid-1899 he had been appointed a magistrate and a licensing justice for the Somerset district. He was also a member of the committees of management of the Torres Strait Hospital and the local state school, but he failed dismally to win a seat on the Torres Divisional Board.

The pearl-shelling industry began to suffer from a labour shortage after the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) was passed and many luggers moved to the Aru Islands. Corran criticized the consequent recruitment of Papuan crews on the same grounds as he had opposed Japanese labour: having to be paid in Papua, they spent no part of their wages in Torres Strait. In 1909 Corran was elected to the Torres Shire Council. When Thursday Island was constituted a municipality in 1912, he became a member of the first town council. After failing to be elected in 1914, he rejoined the council in 1917 and next year was elected mayor. By 1936 he was indefatigably addressing the Brisbane Courier-Mail on the 'decline of Thursday Island as a business centre'.

In July 1938 Corran discovered that he was ineligible—as an undischarged bankrupt—to hold civic office. Having been the island's longest-serving mayor, he resigned on 11 August and obtained his discharge from bankruptcy in Brisbane in June 1939. Slender, neatly bearded and with a Shavian elegance of appearance, in his later years he was accorded the status of the island's 'grand old man'. He died on 17 October 1940 at his home on Thursday Island and was buried with Anglican rites in the local cemetery; his wife, son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Commission into the Pearl-shell and Bêche-de-mer Fisheries, Report and Proceedings, Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1897, 2, p 1273
  • Torres Straits Pilot and New Guinea Gazette, 27 Feb 1897-21 Mar 1914
  • Government Resident at Thursday Island, Annual Report, 1905, p 2
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 25 Oct 1940
  • Herald (Melbourne), 25 Oct 1940
  • Thursday Island Federal Hotel register (Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Brisbane).

Citation details

Margaret Lawrie, 'Corran, Alexander (1861–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 November, 1861
West Derby, Lancashire, England


17 October, 1940 (aged 78)
Thursday Island, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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