Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Thomas Reynolds (1818–1875)

by Gordon D. Combe

This article was published:

Thomas Reynolds (1818-1875), by Henry Jones

Thomas Reynolds (1818-1875), by Henry Jones

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5668

Thomas Reynolds (1818-1875), politician, was born in England in 1818. Brought up by his uncle as a grocer in London, he was invited to South Australia in 1840 by his brother who had a large draper's shop in Hindley Street, Adelaide. With his brother dead when he arrived, he opened a grocery and ran it for many years with much success, though he left it temporarily for the gold diggings in Victoria in 1851. He later retired and pioneered the jam-making industry in South Australia. Among the first to attempt large-scale fruit drying, he had at Wattleville one of the earliest sultana plantations.

An active Wesleyan worker and preacher both in London and Adelaide, Reynolds withdrew in 1847 opposing state aid. He later became a Congregationalist, was an active member of the Union Committee and as a lay preacher often rode great distances to conduct services. Long associated with temperance societies, he was known as 'Teapot Tommy'.

In 1854 Reynolds became an alderman in the Adelaide City Council. Stung by Lieutenant-Governor Robe's attitude towards an anti-state aid deputation, he plunged into political life and was elected for West Torrens to the Legislative Council in July 1854. A prominent reformer, he sought an elective Upper House and manhood suffrage in a liberal constitution. He attacked the abused system of open elections, and was one of those responsible for the vote by secret ballot in South Australia. With responsible government, Reynolds held Sturt in the House of Assembly in 1857-60 and was commissioner of public works in Hanson's cabinet in 1857-58. He resigned because of the position occupied by the premier's brother on the Railways Board.

In parliament Reynolds developed as a financial expert and on 2 May 1860 his no-confidence motion brought down Hanson's government. A week later, as member for the City of Adelaide, he formed a ministry as treasurer, and announced a policy of retrenchment. Next year he resigned but was commissioned to form another cabinet which remained in office till October 1861. His government's troubled career included difficulties over Judge Boothby's questioning of certain laws passed by the South Australian parliament. In 1861-62 Reynolds was treasurer for four months in the second Waterhouse ministry. Charged with having misused his power as a minister he resigned from the government and from parliament. The matter came before the Supreme Court in a libel action. His friends believed he vindicated himself, and in May 1862 his constituency returned him unopposed. He was treasurer in several ministries in 1865-68 and commissioner of crown lands in 1872-73. He represented East Adelaide in 1864-70 and Encounter Bay in 1871-73.

Early in 1873 Reynolds visited Darwin and witnessed the confusion caused by the gold rush. He tried to restore order, and returned to Adelaide where he reported favourably on the mineral resources of the north. Disagreeing with the resumption of free immigration, he resigned from parliament on 28 August 1873, and later settled in Darwin with his wife Anne, née Litchfield, whose three brothers had been early settlers in South Australia. Unsuccessful there, he was returning to Adelaide in the Gothenburg when it was wrecked on the Barrier Reef on 25 February 1875 and he and his wife were drowned; they were survived by two sons.

Reynolds was shrewd in business and for nearly twenty years was a director of the South Australian Insurance Co., but his public career impeded his private profession. He was not a great lawmaker but his influence was continually felt in the general course of legislation. Few men laboured more earnestly or with greater self-sacrifice for South Australia. Reynolds Range in the Northern Territory was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Ward, The Vineyards and Orchards of South Australia (Adel, 1862)
  • J. Blacket, History of South Australia (Adel, 1911)
  • F. W. Cox and L. Robjohns, Three-Quarters of a Century (Adel, 1912)
  • G. D. Combe, Responsible Government in South Australia (Adel, 1957)
  • Register (Adelaide), 8 Mar 1875.

Citation details

Gordon D. Combe, 'Reynolds, Thomas (1818–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Reynolds (1818-1875), by Henry Jones

Thomas Reynolds (1818-1875), by Henry Jones

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5668

Life Summary [details]




25 February, 1875 (aged ~ 57)
at sea

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.

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.