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Thomas (Tommy) Lawton (1899–1978)

by John R. Forbes

This article was published:

Thomas (Tommy) Lawton (1899-1978), footballer, was born on 16 January 1899 at Cungumbogan, near Waterford, Queensland, seventh child of James Thomas Lawton, sawmill manager, and his wife Ruth Herbert, née Hall. Lawton was educated at Brisbane Grammar School, which he represented in Rugby, cricket, swimming and rowing. He enlisted on 12 January 1918 in the Australian Imperial Force, serving briefly in France as a gunner. In 1919 he entered the faculty of science at the University of Queensland, and represented the State at Rugby against New South Wales in an unsuccessful effort to revive the amateur code in the north after a wartime hiatus.

While at the University of Sydney studying medicine in 1920, Lawton was elected Queensland Rhodes Scholar. He entered New College, Oxford (B.A., rural economy, 1924), and represented the university at Rugby, swimming and athletics.

The Rugby Union suspended Lawton as a suspected professional in 1923 on a charge of having played Rugby League in Queensland, but he was exonerated when it was shown that there was no Rugby Union available at the time. In 1924 he was a reserve for England against Ireland. He was widely popular at Oxford but according to London sports commentators was not always treated on his merits when university Rugby teams and club officers were selected. While in England he seems to have enjoyed an excellent living standard, kept souvenirs of fine clubs and hotels in England and Europe and compiled a remarkable collection of labels of exotic beverages.

In 1925 Tommy Lawton played in New Zealand as vice-captain of a New South Wales team. In 1927, as a member of the Sydney Western Suburbs club, he was selected in A. C. Wallace's renowned 'Waratahs' for an eight-month tour of Britain, France and Canada and was outstanding in the five-eight position. Lawton settled in Brisbane, probably in 1929, and greatly assisted the revival of the Queensland Rugby Union organization. He was captain of the Australian team which defeated the New Zealand 'All Blacks' in all three Test matches that year—a feat still unsurpassed. In 1930 he led Australia to victory in the first Test against the British Isles. His last appearance was in a drawn series against New Zealand in 1932. A writer in the Sydney crowd of 28,000 pronounced him 'still the master at 33'. Photographs of Lawton in his playing days portray a handsome, somewhat patrician figure, full-lipped, with high cheekbones.

Lawton had worked for a time with Gibbs, Bright & Co. in Melbourne. On 24 March 1933 at Mosman, Sydney, he married a divorcee, Maud Howe Leeze Archibald, née Rich. They soon retired to a small farm at Mount Nebo near Brisbane where Lawton lived frugally until a few years before his death on 28 June 1978 at Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital. His wife predeceased him and he was survived by two sons and a daughter.

Lawton was one of the finest inside-backs produced by Australian Rugby Union. For a five-eight he was exceptionally tall, being six feet (183 cm) and over twelve stone (76 kg) in a period when international players were markedly slighter than their modern counterparts. His great ability to lead and to 'steady' a team lay in his straight running, his very sure handling and fine tactical kicking. He was also a noted goalkicker. A grandson, also named Thomas Lawton, represented Australia at Rugby from 1983.

Select Bibliography

  • W. H. Bickley (ed), Maroon (Brisb, 1982)
  • Isis (Oxford), Dec 1921, Feb 1925
  • Sporting Life (Lond), 7 Feb 1924, 15 Jan 1928
  • Oxford University Gazette, 23 Dec 1924
  • Referee (Sydney), 9 Jan 1923, 23 July 1930, 26 Oct 1932
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1929, 9 May 1932, 3 July 1978
  • T. Lawton papers (privately held).

Citation details

John R. Forbes, 'Lawton, Thomas (Tommy) (1899–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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