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Sir Edward Henry Macartney (1863–1956)

by W. Ross Johnston

This article was published:

Edward Henry Macartney (1863-1956), by unknown photographer

Edward Henry Macartney (1863-1956), by unknown photographer

Brisbane City Council Library, BCC-B120-33132

Sir Edward Henry Macartney (1863-1956), solicitor and politician, was born on 24 January 1863 at Holywood, Down, Ireland, youngest son of William Isaac Macartney, formerly commissioner of police, Ceylon, of a prominent Northern Ireland family, and his wife Henrietta, née Dare. Educated at Holywood, Enniskillen, Gracehill and Dublin, Edward had over four years of commercial experience at Belfast.

Arriving in Brisbane in March 1883 on the Bulimba with his brother, the ship's surgeon, he apparently went jackarooing briefly as a 'new chum', then worked for the Queensland National Bank at Maryborough, Ipswich, Normanton and Townsville till 1885. He took up articles with the solicitors Thynne & Goertz. On 4 July 1888 he married Caroline Tottenham Lucas Cardew, daughter of a police magistrate, at St Andrew's Church of England, South Brisbane. In 1891 Macartney was admitted as a solicitor and, after the dissolution of the firm, became Thynne's partner in 1893; they developed a strong practice, especially in commercial matters.

Entering politics through local government, Macartney was a wardsman of Ithaca Shire in 1899-1903 (president, 1900) and played a role in the Local Authorities' Association of Queensland. In 1900 he won the Assembly seat of Toowong as an independent Ministerialist against Labor's concerted efforts. He was then espousing what some saw as 'progressive liberal' ideas such as state aid for the aged and needy and divorce reform. Yet he strongly endorsed the Philp government's policy allowing private railway construction and condemned the Labor Party for the 'undemocratic control' exerted over it, he claimed, by the Trades Hall and Mat Reid. Defeating Reid in 1904, Macartney held Toowong until 1908 when in a snap election he was replaced while overseas.

Although not a good orator and extremely sensitive to criticism, Macartney was seen to be politically powerful from 1902, often acting as chairman of committees. He took a keen interest in electoral redistribution, argued for one vote one value, and successfully introduced legislation against juvenile smoking in 1905. He became deputy leader of the Philp Opposition in 1907. In 1909-11 Macartney was the junior member for Brisbane North and in 1911 regained Toowong which he held until 1920. He was secretary for public lands (1911-12) in Denham's government while the department was trying to tackle the prickly pear problem. He piloted through the Public Service Superannuation Act of 1912. On 11 December he resigned over an auditing disagreement with the home secretary, J. G. Appel, about police administration.

Between 1915 and 1920 Macartney was locked in combat with the Labor government; a personal and professional dislike developed between him and Premier T. J. Ryan. Macartney denounced the government's policies of state regulation of the economy, state enterprises and abolition of the Legislative Council; spoke out ardently for private enterprise and freedom of contract, and against the nationalizing tendencies of Labor's socialist policies; and turned his invective against Labor Speakers. Labor saw Macartney as a conservative reactionary, 'the Hercules of toryism in this State'. Mindful of the 1912 strike, the government criticized him as the representative of monopolies and the money power, and his legal firm was likened to big American corporation lawyers; he was accused of fusing his political and professional roles, was called 'the emissary of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company', 'elected by the commercial magnates of the State'. Macartney and Ryan also crossed swords in legal cases, such as Fowles v. The Eastern and Australian Steamship Company, and Macartney accused Ryan of profiting from legal cases while he was attorney-general. In 1916 Labor introduced a constitutional bill, popularly dubbed the 'Thynne and Macartney disabling bill', designed to disqualify solicitors who acted 'for monopoly companies or alien companies' from being members of parliament. Macartney supported conscription for overseas military service.

Reluctantly, briefly in 1915 and in 1918-20, he led the Opposition. Not nearly as astute a tactitian as Ryan and dogged by ill health, Macartney gave up politics and resumed legal practice in 1920. He became chairman of directors of Swift Australian Co. Pty Ltd and of the local board of the National Bank of Australasia Ltd, and a director of Finney Isles & Co. Ltd, Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd and British Traders' Insurance Co. Ltd. In 1929-31 he was agent-general in London for the Moore government, and was knighted in 1930.

Macartney was the university's solicitor from 1913 and a committee-member of the Queensland Club for six years. He was a keen golfer, sometime president of the Brisbane Golf Club. He died on 24 February 1956 in Brisbane, where he was cremated after an Anglican service. His wife and their two sons predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland — Our Seventh Political Decade, 1920-1930 (Syd, 1931)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • D. J. Murphy, T. J. Ryan (Brisb, 1975)
  • Pugh's Almanac, 1914
  • Brisbane Courier, 15-20 Mar 1883, 19-28 Nov 1900, 22 Mar 1907, 29 Jan 1920
  • Patriot (Brisbane), 4 Aug 1906
  • Queenslander, 5 June 1930
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 25 Feb 1956
  • Brisbane City Council Archives (Town Hall, Brisbane).

Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Macartney, Sir Edward Henry (1863–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Henry Macartney (1863-1956), by unknown photographer

Edward Henry Macartney (1863-1956), by unknown photographer

Brisbane City Council Library, BCC-B120-33132

Life Summary [details]


24 January, 1863
Holywood, Down, Ireland


24 February, 1956 (aged 93)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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