Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Henry George Marshall (1850–1920)

by John Laverty

This article was published:

William Henry George Marshall (1850-1920), town clerk, was born on 12 September 1850 at Brisbane, son of William Henry Marshall, carpenter and builder, and his wife Emma, née Fairfax. His parents had been selected for migration to Moreton Bay by J. D. Lang and arrived in the Lima in 1849. Marshall was educated at the Normal School in Brisbane and at 15 as office boy entered the Brisbane Municipal Council where his father represented Valley Ward. Ability and devotion to duty soon brought Marshall to the notice of the aldermen and, when the town clerk was dismissed for neglect of duties in 1873, the mayor, James Swan, appointed Marshall acting town clerk despite his youth. On 24 February 1874 he was chosen from a number of applicants to fill the permanent office of town clerk, a position he occupied with distinction for forty-six years.

Marshall was town clerk while the population of the municipality (city after 1902) and the functions of the corporation grew substantially. An extensive and complex system of committees developed, the permanent staff grew from 7 in 1874 to 24 in 1920 and 8 separate departments emerged within the civic administration. In order to ensure the effective co-ordination of departments Marshall, as town clerk, was made chief administrative officer of the municipality in 1899. Pressure of work later induced him to resign from the Commission of the Peace to which he had been appointed in 1882.

In 1896 the Queensland government appointed Marshall to the royal commission on local government in the colony. In a rider to its report he revealed strong liberal views, objecting vigorously to recommendations for restricting the ratepayers' rights and franchise. He helped to form the Local Authorities Association of Queensland in 1896 and actively supported the Local Government Clerks' Association of Queensland, formed in 1914. Though retiring, modest and courteous by habit, his tact, administrative ability and trustworthiness enabled him to secure the co-operation of the municipal staff and to win the respect and confidence of the aldermen and the community.

Marshall was a member of the Church of England. He died in hospital on 28 December 1920, survived by his wife Jane, née Saint, whom he had married in Brisbane on 9 December 1874, and by three sons and three of their four daughters. He was buried in Bulimba cemetery. The Brisbane City Council decided to provide a 'lasting memorial' within the Town Hall in memory of one who had served the city so well over more than half a century.

Portraits are in the Brisbane City Council and the Oxley Library.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (Brisb, 1959)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1896, 2, 525
  • Brisbane Courier, 29 Dec 1920
  • Municipal Council minutes 1865-1902 and City Council minutes 1903-1920 (Town Hall, Brisbane).

Citation details

John Laverty, 'Marshall, William Henry George (1850–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 May 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]


12 September, 1850
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


28 December, 1920 (aged 70)

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.