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Thomas Laidlaw (1813–1876)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published:

Thomas Laidlaw (1813-1876), businessman, was born on 23 September 1813 in Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland, eldest son of Alexander Laidlaw, merchant, and his first wife Helen, née Cochrane. He was related to William Laidlaw who was a friend of Sir Walter Scott. Trained as a banker in Scotland, Thomas Laidlaw arrived at Sydney in 1839. Next year he went to Yass and became a partner of C. B. Harrison, general store-keeper. Later they also transacted most of the banking business south of Goulburn.

Laidlaw became a trustee of the Yass Hospital in 1847, a member of the Yass District Council in 1848, a licensed spirits merchant and brewer in 1849, and postmaster in 1851. As he acquired social influence his probity earned him the nickname 'Honest Tom of Yass'. On Harrison's death the business passed to Laidlaw who made a fortune selling groceries, ironmongery, earthenware, liquor, drapery and ladies' clothing. He retired in 1866 and sold his substantial emporium to his manager, J. P. Ritchie.

In June 1859 Laidlaw was elected unopposed to represent Yass Plains in the Legislative Assembly, but in September his government contract as postmaster at Yass was discovered and he had to vacate his seat. He hastily resigned as postmaster and was re-elected to the assembly on the 15th. He supported Charles Cowper's government but declined the office of colonial treasurer. Too reticent to enjoy politics he retired on 10 November 1860 and could never be persuaded to contest another election although he used his influence in promoting local candidates. In 1866 he successfully supported the ministerial re-election of Robert Isaacs. In the bitter elections of 1869-70, Laidlaw refused repeated requests to stand as the only local man with an independent outlook, but persuaded Michael Fitzpatrick to contest the seat.

Laidlaw sat on Yass bench for many years and on his advice the Yass Courier was started in 1857. He took a benevolent interest in many local charities and was popular in the town and surrounding district. In retirement he acquired at least ten pastoral properties in New South Wales but in his last years was more often in Sydney than Yass. In 1841 he had married Catherine Galvin of Camden, who died of consumption the next year. He buried her in a specially consecrated corner of his estate and never remarried. As he prospered he brought out his stepmother Charlotte, née Haig, and three brothers and two sisters from Scotland to live with him at Yass; they all predeceased him.

Laidlaw died at Yass on 12 June 1876 after entering the Roman Catholic Church. He was buried beside his wife and their graves overlook that section of the main street of Yass which bears their name. His estate, valued at £175,000, was divided among friends in New South Wales, charities in Yass and relations in Scotland.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1859-60, 1, 17, 71, 1870, 1, 431
  • Empire (Sydney), 7 June 1859
  • Town and Country Journal, 24 June 1876
  • Yass Courier, 7 Feb 1866, 19 Nov 1869, 13, 16, 23 June 1876.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Laidlaw, Thomas (1813–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 September, 1813
Melrose, Scottish Borders, Scotland


12 June, 1876 (aged 62)
Yass, New South Wales, Australia

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