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Thomas Huggins Nesbitt (1853–1935)

by Janet Howse

This article was published:

Thomas Huggins Nesbitt (1853-1935), by unknown photographer, 1913

Thomas Huggins Nesbitt (1853-1935), by unknown photographer, 1913

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/274

Thomas Huggins Nesbitt (1853-1935), town clerk, was born on 24 August 1853 at Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, son of Henry Nesbitt, cordwainer, and his wife Jane, née Huggins. Educated at private and national schools at Whitehaven, he was a draper at Douglas, Isle of Man, in the early 1870s. There he married Frances Cowell, dressmaker, at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 28 October 1875. Returning to Whitehaven he became managing clerk to a solicitor with a varied general and local government practice.

In 1881-97 Nesbitt was town clerk of Douglas and ex officio clerk or secretary to sundry local boards and commissions. He was appointed vestry clerk and clerk to the overseers of the parish of St George, Hanover Square, London, in January 1898 and from November acted as city comptroller of the newly constituted City of Westminster. A freeman of the City of London from 1900, he was a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and of the Society of Accountants and Auditors, a member of the Royal Society of Arts and a prominent Freemason.

Worried by his wife's poor health, Nesbitt successfully applied for the position of town clerk in Sydney, and took up his duties with the Sydney Municipal Council on 1 January 1902. The council, following the resignation, suspension and temporary appointment of four town clerks in three years, required much reorganization. Despite disagreements with various lord mayors, under Nesbitt the council resumed many properties in order to widen thoroughfares and eliminate slum housing, introduced electricity supply to the city and suburbs and made many progressive decisions to bring Sydney into line with overseas practices. An efficient and businesslike administrator, he wrote voluminous annual reports. In evidence before the 1913 royal commission into the question of the constitution of a greater Sydney he recommended enlarging the council's powers, functions and boundaries.

The circumstances before and after Nesbitt's retirement in June 1924 were controversial: Lord Mayor David Gilpin wished to retain him for his guidance while some aldermen attempted to retire him compulsorily. As an incentive to retire the council gave him a year's salary as an honorarium; in November it was reported that he had been overpaid by nearly £3000 but the matter was not pursued.

In England Nesbitt had held high Masonic office and was deeply involved in the higher degrees of Freemasonry. In Sydney he immediately joined Lodge Prince Alfred and in 1902 was appointed grand representative in New South Wales of United Grand Lodge of England, a position previously held only by Lord Carrington and Sir Joseph Abbott; he was later given the rank of past grand master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales. He composed nearly eighty lectures for Masonic meetings and wrote many letters to the Sydney press; 'the length of his sentences … will long be remembered because of their grandiose verbosity'. A dapper man with a stiffly waxed moustache, he collected the autographs of nearly 7000 public men and women. A widower, he married a masseuse, Constance Edith Jeffrey, widowed daughter of Walter Spring Rice, at Katoomba on 2 April 1927.

Survived by two sons and three daughters of his first marriage, Nesbitt died at his Edgecliff home on 9 June 1935 and was cremated with Methodist forms. A portrait by Joseph Wolinski is in the Sydney Town Hall.

Select Bibliography

  • Town and Country Journal, 31 Aug 1901, 5 Aug 1903
  • Arrow (Sydney), 5 May 1906
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Feb, 18, 19, 24, 25, 29 Apr, 28 June 1924, 10 June 1935
  • Australian Worker, 19 June 1935
  • J. Creer, Reminiscences of Joseph Creer (no date, State Library of New South Wales)
  • Minutes of the Municipal Council of Sydney, and town clerk's annual report, 1898-1911, 1916-1922, and application for position of town clerk, 1901, ref 16/55 (Sydney City Council Archives).

Citation details

Janet Howse, 'Nesbitt, Thomas Huggins (1853–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Huggins Nesbitt (1853-1935), by unknown photographer, 1913

Thomas Huggins Nesbitt (1853-1935), by unknown photographer, 1913

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/274

Life Summary [details]


24 August, 1853
Whitehaven, Cumberland, England


9 June, 1935 (aged 81)
Edgecliff, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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