Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Alfred Jolly (1881–1955)

by John Laverty

This article was published:

William Jolly, 1925-31

William Jolly, 1925-31

State Library of Queensland

William Alfred Jolly (1881-1955), accountant, mayor and politician, was born on 11 September 1881 at Spring Hill, Brisbane, son of Alexander Jolly, gardener, and his wife Mary, née Kelly. Educated at Ashgrove State School, he worked as a clerk for the law firms Hamilton & Graham, and Atthow & MacGregor before starting to study accountancy. Later, he worked for the National Cash Register Co., as secretary of the Synchronome Electrical Co. and as accountant to the Lowood Creamery Co. Once qualified (F.C.A., 1913), he joined A. J. Robinson in the accountancy firm Robinson & Jolly in 1914. He became a local authority auditor and served on the State council (chairman 1934-36) and the general council of the Federal Institute of Accountants for several years. When the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia was established in 1928, he was elected to the first board and to the general council for three years. He was a director of the Queensland National Bank and, subsequently, of the National Bank of Australasia when it absorbed the Queensland bank in 1948.

After serving an apprenticeship as secretary of the Wooloowin Progress Association, Jolly was an alderman of the Windsor Town Council in 1912-25 and mayor in 1918-23, but his interest in municipal affairs extended beyond his own suburb. He represented metropolitan local authorities on the Brisbane and South Coast District Hospitals Board for several years and the north Brisbane councils on the Brisbane Tramways Trust in 1923-25. Under his leadership as mayoral candidate in the first elections for the Greater Brisbane City Council in 1925, the United Party won the mayoralty and thirteen of the nineteen wards. Though renamed the Nationalist Civic Party, Jolly's team repeated its success in 1928 when he expanded his personal vote as mayor. He resigned just before the end of his second term to groom the vice-mayor as a mayoral candidate for the next election. He himself turned later to national politics, won Lilley for the United Australia Party in 1937, increased his majority in 1940 and was narrowly defeated in 1943. He then retired from politics.

President of the Brisbane Rotary Club, Jolly was also a board member of the Young Men's Christian Association and several times president. A keen golfer, he was largely responsible for the establishment of the Victoria Park Golf Club, was its first president and later a life member. As an active and prominent Methodist layman, he attended both State and general conferences and was a councillor of King's College in the University of Queensland. Jolly was reported to have declined an offer by the McCormack government of a knighthood because it might interfere with his family life and gardening but he was appointed C.M.G in 1927 and, in his second civic term, was elevated to lord mayor.

Jolly was genial, unassuming and respected and popular for his civic work. Direct election of the mayor and the strong executive powers granted by the City of Brisbane Act suited his personality. Despite initial reservations he became a firm believer in the Greater Brisbane scheme. He was clearly a prime mover in developing high-grade arterial road systems, the expansion of drainage, the purchase of extensive parklands and the construction of the Grey Street Bridge (now renamed the William Jolly Bridge). He was particularly proud of his role in deciding the university site. His determination that Greater Brisbane should succeed inspired his every action.

Jolly married Lillie Maude Moorhouse on 8 January 1907; they had seven sons. He died at his Windsor home on 30 May 1955 from hypertension and coronary occlusion and was buried in Toowong cemetery. A portrait by Caroline Barker is held by the Brisbane City Council's art gallery.

Select Bibliography

  • Men of Queensland (Brisb, 1929)
  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (Brisb, 1959)
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 23 Apr 1927
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 31 May 1958
  • W. A. Jolly, unpublished biographical summary (privately held)
  • City Council minutes, 1925-31 (Town Hall, Brisbane).

Citation details

John Laverty, 'Jolly, William Alfred (1881–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Jolly, 1925-31

William Jolly, 1925-31

State Library of Queensland

Life Summary [details]


11 September, 1881
Spring Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


30 May, 1955 (aged 73)
Windsor, 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.