Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Murdoch (1868–1946)

by Elizabeth B. Jones

This article was published:

Thomas Murdoch (1868-1946), politician and businessman, was born on 15 March 1868 in Hobart Town, fourth son of John Murdoch, merchant, and his wife Margaret, née Anderson, both from Scotland, and grandson of Dr James Murdoch. He was educated at The Hutchins School. In 1884 he joined the audit department of the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Co. as a junior clerk and in 1890-97 worked in the Bank of Van Diemen's Land and the Commercial Bank of Australia. With his brother Harry he established Murdoch Bros, merchants and auctioneers, with butter and cheese factories in Hobart and country districts.

Murdoch represented Hobart in the Legislative Council in 1914-26 and Buckingham in 1927-44; he was deputy president in 1927, chairman of committees in 1932-37 and president in 1937-44. In 1932 he had been one of the four members whose seats were briefly forfeited when the solicitor-general found unconstitutional the holding by members of loans from the Agricultural Bank. One of the most forceful debaters in the council, Murdoch was a militant Tasmanian, introducing a motion for secession in December 1924.

As a crusader for Tasmanian industries and agent for Cadbury-Fry-Pascall Pty Ltd, he selected a site for their Australasian factory at Claremont. He was a successful promoter of the Australian Newsprint Mills, the Electrolytic Zinc Co. and a Sydney-Hobart shipping service, and was an active member of the committee for the apple and pear scheme. He served as a member of the Hobart Marine Board in 1909-38 (four times master warden) and was four times president of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce. As consul for Belgium from 1917 Murdoch was twice decorated by the Belgian government. He was honorary agent for the British Emigration Society of London, for over thirty years chieftain of the Caledonian Society of Tasmania, a life member of the Hobart Regatta Association and Tasmanian representative of the Australasian Pioneers' Club. In 1943 he was appointed C.M.G.

Murdoch died on 29 June 1946 in Hobart and was cremated. On 15 September 1898 in Hobart he had married Mabel Mary Pearce who died in 1903, leaving a daughter. On 14 December 1907 in Melbourne he married Lesley Elizabeth (1881-1961), daughter of Boston-born Hubert Tope and his Scottish wife Jessie, née Taylor; she had been born in Melbourne on 18 October 1881. Lesley Murdoch was an outstanding hostess and organizer, with many legal, political and artistic friends. In 1920, with the help of a committee, she organized a citizens' ball and reception in honour of the Prince of Wales at the City Hall, Hobart, connected by a walkway to the supper-room in Murdoch Bros' Building.

Mrs Murdoch was the third woman to stand for election to parliament in Tasmania, but was unsuccessful in 1934 as an Independent. She was the first woman to be elected to the Council of the University of Tasmania (1932-35, 1937-44). Petite and blue-eyed but of forceful personality, she worked to improve the status of women; she found employment for girls and frequently spoke for women in court. She was a member of the National Council of Women of Tasmania, the Child Welfare Association, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and was a founding member of the Women's Non-Party League.

Lesley Murdoch died on 13 October 1961 at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, and was cremated; a son and daughter survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Tasmania, Calendar, 1941
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 1930, 12 July, 11 Oct 1932, 20 Mar 1940
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 July 1946, 14 Oct 1961
  • diary with entries by T. and L. Murdoch and family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Elizabeth B. Jones, 'Murdoch, Thomas (1868–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 July 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]


15 March, 1868
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


29 June, 1946 (aged 78)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.