Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Livingston (1851–1922)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published:

Thomas Livingston (1851-1922), politician and manufacturer, was born on 12 June 1851 at Bathurst, New South Wales, son of John Livingston, shepherd, and his wife Margaret, née Brock. The family moved to Ballarat, Victoria, when Thomas was 5. In 1869 he undertook a Board of Education teacher-training course and taught at schools in the Ballarat area in 1870-78 and at Numurkah from 1879. His inspectors described him as energetic and intelligent. On 11 April 1882 at Majorca he married, with Wesleyan forms, a fellow teacher Genefor Deborah Perry.

Resigning from the Education Department in July 1883, Livingston worked as a journalist at Shepparton, became part-proprietor of the Numurkah Standard and then proprietor of the Tungamah and Lake Rowan Express which he sold in 1887 to edit the Goulburn Valley Farmers' Gazette. Next year he founded the Melbourne Chilled Butter Co. and became its managing director, later visiting Denmark in the firm's interests. The company pioneered the export of butter in 1889 and established seventeen creameries throughout Victoria before expanding to cheese-making and the export of frozen poultry, rabbits and fruit. Livingston ceased active involvement with the firm in 1900, although remaining chairman, and bought a farm at Agnes River, South Gippsland.

Elected to the Legislative Assembly for Gippsland South in October 1902 as a supporter of the Kyabram retrenchment movement, Livingston worked hard to secure road and rail improvements for his electorate while seeking to limit other government activities. He opposed the extension of the Factories and Shops Act to country areas and led the opposition to Swinburne's milk supervision bill in 1905. More sympathetic to the claims of education than to industrial or health reform, he advocated better pay and conditions for state-school teachers, referred to school inspectors as 'small Czars' and described as 'blackmail' the requirement for parents in remote country areas to pay for erection of schools. As a member of the country faction he supported the removal of Sir Thomas Bent's government in December 1908. In 1909 he chaired a board of inquiry into the Small Holdings Act.

Genial, conscientious and unassuming, Livingston was a popular government whip and secretary to cabinet in the Murray government of 1909-12; (Sir) Harry Lawson regarded him as 'easily first' among party whips. Honorary minister under Watt in 1913-14, he served in the subsequent Peacock government as minister of public instruction from June 1914 to November 1915 and then as minister of mines, minister of forests and vice-president of the Board of Land and Works until November 1917. He was a cautious administrator who made more impact in mines and forests than in education. In 1917 he appointed the brown coal advisory committee whose recommendations led to the establishment of the State Electricity Commission. In 1918, believing that the state forests had been 'ruthlessly and scandalously destroyed', he altered royalty payments to sawmillers to minimize timber wastage.

Livingston returned briefly to office in 1921 as honorary minister with responsibility for agriculture in the Lawson ministry, but relinquished the post because of ill health. He was a Freemason and Presbyterian temperance advocate.

He died at Middle Park on 13 July 1922, one week after being elected deputy chairman of the parliamentary country Liberals. Survived by his wife and daughter, he was given a state funeral and was buried in Brighton cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Victoria of Today (Melb, 1902)
  • E. H. Sugden and F. W. Eggleston, George Swinburne (Syd, 1931)
  • C. Edwards, Brown Power (Melb, 1969)
  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1906, p 110, 1908, p 1756, 1917-18, p 175, 1922, p 144
  • Gippsland Farmers' Journal, 17 July 1922
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 July 1922
  • information supplied by Education History Services, Education Dept, Melbourne.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Livingston, Thomas (1851–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 April 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 June, 1851
Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia


13 July, 1922 (aged 71)
Middle Park, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.