Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Arthur Ferry (1877–1963)

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Thomas Arthur Ferry (1877-1963), public servant, was born on 14 March 1877 at St George, Queensland, son of Thomas Ferry, grazier, and his wife Margaret, née Ward. After a state school education, Ferry entered the public service on 21 September 1898 as fisheries clerk in the Marine Department at Thursday Island, where on 8 November 1902 he married Gertrude Elizabeth Maude Collis; they had two children.

Transferring the same year to the office of the clerk of petty sessions on the island, Ferry served later at Charleville, Brisbane, Chillagoe, Mackay, Cairns and Townsville before being appointed police magistrate at Ingham on 1 July 1914. While clerk of petty sessions at Mackay in March 1909–March 1911, he had the unusual distinction of being also a director of the North Eton Central Sugar Mill. He went to Cairns in 1916 as police magistrate and, from 1 January 1917, was also both industrial magistrate and chairman of the northern Railway Appeal Board from mid-1919. His ability in industrial negotiation was highly commended by Chief Justice T. W. McCawley after settlement of the Fairymead sugar-workers' strike in 1919. Ferry's skill in assessing evidence soon led to the first of a long series of appointments to conduct special inquiries, when in 1916 he investigated charges made against his predecessor in Cairns by the local police. In 1918 with H. I. Jensen, he investigated government expenditure at Croydon on a search for a lost gold reef.

In March 1920 the Theodore government appointed Ferry commissioner of prices under the Profiteering Prevention Act 1920, a move which annoyed certain sections of the commercial world. Appointed an electoral redistribution commissioner in 1921, he became acting under-secretary of the Chief Secretary's Department on 23 November 1922, permanent from 20 April 1923. From August 1924 he was a member of the State Stores Board. Ferry was appointed a full-time member of the Board of Trade and Arbitration on 5 March 1928 but retained his prices post till 15 December 1938. In the meantime he had become a conciliation commissioner on 23 January 1930, and served in industrial arbitration until his retirement from the bench on 31 January 1947.

Throughout his career the special tasks recurred. In 1925-26 he conducted a royal commission on the social and economic effects of the increase of aliens in North Queensland; although naive in many respects, his report was in general fair to the Italian migrants. Further royal commissions followed in 1926 on unemployment among waterside workers and in 1929-30 on the mining industry. He investigated the disposal of sapphires at Anakie in February 1928 and chaired a royal commission on the mining industry in 1929-30. In 1935-36 he chaired another royal commission—into racing and gaming. From 11 January 1934 Ferry chaired the Central Coal Board. He was in electoral redistribution commissioner in the same year as well as chairman of the Licensing Commission from 1935. An opposition member disclosed in parliament in 1936 that, because of his many offices, Ferry earned £52 more in the current year than did the chief justice. At his farewell from the service, his 'fair and conscientious work' on the bench was noted. He died in Brisbane Hospital on 26 May 1963 and was buried in Nudgee cemetery with Roman Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • W. D. Borrie, Italians and Germans in Australia (Melb, 1954)
  • Queenslander, 16 Apr 1921
  • Brisbane Courier, 3 Mar 1928, 24 Jan 1930
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 27 May 1963.

Citation details

'Ferry, Thomas Arthur (1877–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 March, 1877
St George, Queensland, Australia


26 May, 1963 (aged 86)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.