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Perkins, Patrick (1838–1901)

by D. B. Waterson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Patrick Perkins (1838-1901), brewer and politician, was born on 10 October 1838 at Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland, second son of Thomas Perkins, farmer, and his wife Ellen, née Gooley. Educated at the local National school, he migrated to Victoria in 1855 with his family. Successful on the Ballarat and Bendigo goldfields, he and his brother Thomas (1841-1876) as partners acquired a share in the Reedy Creek mine for £8000 and later opened a store and brewing business at Castlemaine.

Perkins visited Queensland in 1866 and opened the Toowoomba Brewery in 1869. Its operations were extended to Brisbane, where 'Castlemaine XXXX' ale soon won repute and a large following. In 1876 he settled in Brisbane and became involved in real estate, mining, brewing and hotel speculations. In 1888 with McIlwraith and Morehead he floated Perkins & Co., a large brewing and hotel business. Unlike others Perkins was astute and ruthless, and disposed of most of his shares before the firm struck financial difficulties. Retribution followed when he joined his political associates in speculating heavily in Mount Morgan shares (9104 in 1892) and hotel properties. By then his overdraft at the Queensland National Bank (£99,485) was one of the largest in the colony and the securities lodged were then worth scarcely half this debt. By 1898 he was even unable to pay an £8000 call on his 20 per cent share in R. M. Collins's and Thomas McIlwraith's North Australian Pastoral Co. In his last years he was almost impoverished.

Perkins had entered the Legislative Assembly on 1 May 1877 as member for Aubigny, a Darling Downs constituency. Unseated for election irregularities in 1884, he surprisingly won Cambooya in the Nationalist sweep of 1888. He wisely refrained from contesting that electorate in 1893 and was appointed on 23 May to the Legislative Council where he retained his seat until 1901.

Resembling McIlwraith in size and opinions if not in vision and intellect, Perkins aroused astonishment by becoming secretary of public lands in the first McIlwraith ministry from January 1879 to November 1883. As a minister he worked hard, relying on his under-secretary to save him from mistakes. His régime was unmarked by policy innovations but marred by his involvement in the Peak Downs affair when he allegedly reduced the price of crown lands in a transaction with his colleague Morehead. Although nothing was proved, the affair did little for Perkins's reputation, already blighted by inability to absorb criticism and by his fiery temperament and vituperative tongue. His flagrant abuse of electoral laws, effrontery and blatant cynicism made the Aubigny election of 1883 one of the most notorious in Queensland. After a violent and alcoholic diatribe against 'McIlwraith, Orangemen and Psalm-singers' at Toowoomba on 2 January 1888 Perkins forfeited not only his leader's 'sympathy but incurred his strongest disapproval'. The end of this warm and intimate friendship, combined with opposition from the Brisbane press, led to his exclusion from the new ministry. In the council he was more effective as a genial roads-and-bridges member of the old colonial school whose political actions became increasingly absorbed with preserving property and defeating reform. An agreeable and hearty companion but unrelenting to such enemies as W. H. Groom, he left few impressions on the colony beyond his survival of three shipwrecks.

Perkins was an influential member of a small legal and business group of Roman Catholics who uneasily coexisted with the new Queensland mercantile establishment. He was given a dinner in May 1886 on the eve of his visit to Ireland. He died on 17 May 1901 at Hawthorn, Victoria. He left £250 to charities, £100 to Riverview College and the residue of his £4000 estate to his wife Mary Ellen, née Hickey, by whom he had four sons and four daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1883-84, 403
  • Australasian, 22 May 1886, 29 June 1901
  • Boomerang (Brisbane), 7 Jan 1888
  • Brisbane Courier, 18 May 1901
  • McIlwraith papers (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Perkins, Patrick (1838–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/perkins-patrick-4389/text7149, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 October 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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