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Edward Bowdich Swayne (1857–1946)

by Brian F. Stevenson

This article was published:

Edward Bowdich Swayne (1857-1946), cane-farmer and politician, was born on 4 December 1857 at Erith, Kent, England, son of Herbert Wigan Swayne, surgeon, and his wife Eugenia Keir, née Bowdich. The family moved to New Zealand in 1864, to New South Wales in 1868 and to the Peak Downs district in central Queensland in 1876. Swayne worked as a drover and horse-breaker on his father's stations, then went to Plane Creek in the Mackay district where he engaged in sawmilling and cane-farming; by 1884 he was the proprietor of the Alligator Creek sawmill and by 1906 owned a cane-farm of 580 acres (235 ha). On 11 June 1890 he had married Margaret Ellen Thompson (d.1915) with Anglican rites at Holy Trinity Church, Mackay.

When the advent of the central mill system made it necessary for small cane-growers to organize, Swayne was a leading spirit in founding the Pioneer River Farmer's Association in 1892. For fourteen years the secretary of what subsequently became the most powerful farmers' organization in Queensland, in 1906 Swayne took over the presidency of the P.R.F.A. which later merged with the United Cane Growers' Association.

After a brief stint with the Pioneer Shire Council, he stood for the seat of Mackay as an Independent in 1902 and won it in 1907 as a farmers' candidate supporting (Sir) Robert Philp. Swayne convened a meeting of rural parliamentarians in December 1909 to form the Farmers' Parliamentary Union, a group within the government founded 'to discuss measures relating to agricultural pursuits, and if necessary to arrange concerted action thereon'. He was appointed secretary of this body, from which the Country and Progressive National Party later developed. The F.P.U. facilitated the passage of several measures beneficial to agriculture, especially the sugar industry. Its effectiveness was neutralized with the Labor victory of 1915. Swayne was to remain his party's secretary until he retired from politics in May 1935.

When the conservative Moore government was formed in 1929 Swayne did not receive a portfolio, possibly because it was thought that he would allow his staunch rural regionalism to take priority over cabinet policy. In 1931 he successfully introduced a private member's bill—a simple but effective amendment to the Courts of Conciliation Act—allowing justices of the peace and police magistrates to undertake some of the work previously done by qualified lawyers.

Swayne died in Brisbane on 15 June 1946 and was cremated; he was survived by his wife Olive Lilian, née Kay, whom he had married on 16 June 1925 at St Stephen's Anglican Church, Coorparoo, and by three sons and two daughters of his first marriage. Although 'quiet' and 'unobtrusive', Swayne had been able to mould the farmers in his district and their representatives in parliament into strong rural lobbies. He had swum flooded creeks, when necessary, to keep appointments and had lived to see fulfilled his 1899 prediction that farmers would achieve their legislative requirements through their own unity.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty (1859-1919) Years (Brisb, 1919?)
  • Queensland Agricultural Journal, 1 Aug 1899, p 154
  • Illustrated Souvenir of the City and District of Mackay (Mackay, 1937)
  • Pugh's Almanac, 1912
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay), 17 June 1946.

Citation details

Brian F. Stevenson, 'Swayne, Edward Bowdich (1857–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 December, 1857
Erith, Kent, England


15 June, 1946 (aged 88)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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