Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William George Thompson (1863–1953)

by Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published:

William George Thompson (1863-1953), merchant, soldier and politician, was born on 2 March 1863 at Lurgan, Armagh, Ireland, son of William Thompson, building contractor, and his wife Isabella, née Campbell. The family arrived at Keppel Bay, Queensland, in 1864. William left North Rockhampton State School at 11 and joined a mercantile firm as office-boy; his sister—determined that he should receive further education—worked as a dressmaker to pay his night-school fees. A founding member (1881) of the North Rockhampton Protestant Alliance Friendly Society, in 1886 he set up the bonded warehouse of W. G. Thompson & Co. Paid secretaryships of the local hospital and jockey club, together with auditing and general commission work, added to his income and good repute. A youthful alderman of the North Rockhampton Borough Council, he was mayor in 1890. On 17 August 1901 he married Mary Ellen Bancroft with Presbyterian forms at Rockhampton.

With a keen interest in soldiering, Thompson had enlisted in the militia in 1889; as a captain in the 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry he had charge of troops at Clermont during the shearers' strike of 1891; he went in 1897 with the Australian contingent to Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. Second-in-command of Queensland's 1899 contingent to the South African War, he saw repeated action and—as a magistrate of the High Court of Pretoria—administered martial law. As lieutenant-colonel, in 1908 Thompson commanded the 15th Regiment, Australian Light Horse, and next year helped to revise its manual. In 1910-16 he was in charge of training camps in Queensland. Promoted colonel, Australian Imperial Force (sea transport service), he then spent eighteen months in charge of troops on convoy work. Holding standard campaign decorations, he retired a brigadier general in 1921.

Having unsuccessfully contested the Queensland Legislative Assembly seat of Keppel in 1918, Thompson was elected to the Senate as a Nationalist in December 1922. In parliament he fought a losing battle to gain Federal support for the development of the Great Bowen Basin coal resources in central Queensland. A member of a parliamentary mission to Canada in 1928, he became its leader when General Sir William Glasgow was recalled. Next year Thompson served on the joint committee on public accounts. Like many conservative Queensland politicians, he was defeated in the Depression, losing his seat in June 1932.

Although he retired from his own business in 1925, Thompson was president of the Rockhampton Chamber of Commerce (1933-43) and of the Employers' Association of central Queensland; he also chaired the Bluff Colliery Co. and the Central Queensland Coal Board. Vice-consul for Sweden in central Queensland for thirty-two years, in 1940 he received a Swedish knighthood (Royal Order of Vasa). He performed in an amateur orchestra and enjoyed polo, rowing, tennis and later bowls.

Thompson retired to Sydney several years before his death at Petersham on 7 March 1953. He was cremated and his ashes interred in General Thompson Park, North Rockhampton, on 24 March 1961. A daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. McDonald, Rockhampton (Brisb, 1981)
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 23 Oct 1896, 7 Apr 1897, 2 May 1908, 14 Aug 1909, 23 Apr 1921, 16 Dec 1922, 30 June 1932, 19 Jan 1940, 10 Mar 1953
  • private information.

Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Thompson, William George (1863–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 May 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]


2 March, 1863
Lurgan, Armagh, Ireland


7 March, 1953 (aged 90)
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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