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George Thorn (1806–1876)

by Helen Haenke

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This is a shared entry with George Henry Thorn

George Thorn (1806-1876), soldier, businessman and politician, and George Henry Thorn (1840-1905), politician, were father and son. George was born on 11 April 1806 near Stockbridge, Hampshire, England, son of Simon Thorn, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth. A colour-sergeant, he arrived in Australia with the 4th (King's Own) Regiment in 1832. He served Governor Richard Bourke as an orderly, joined a detachment for service in Port Phillip in 1836, entered the Town Survey Department and was on the governor's staff at the first survey of Melbourne in March 1837. In June when his regiment left for India he bought his discharge, joined the Commissariat Department and on 2 November in Sydney he married the seventeen-year-old Jane Handcock.

In 1838 Thorn was sent to Moreton Bay and, on 20 July 1839 with salary of £60 and quarters, was put in charge of the Limestone Hill penal settlement with control of all government stock. He resigned when the establishment closed in 1839, kept the Queen's Arms Hotel and in 1847 sold it and set up a store. His purchase of Ipswich town lots at the first sale in 1843 began an accumulation of land that included Rosebrook, Nukienda and Warra Warra stations totalling 58,000 acres (23,472 ha), and allotments in Toowoomba, Mogill and Cleveland. In 1859-60 he returned briefly to England.

Thorn was a member for West Moreton in 1860-63 in the Legislative Assembly. His main interest was in Ipswich, where he was an alderman in 1862-65 and helped establish the Anglican church, School of Arts, hospital, Grammar School, Botanic Gardens, North Australian Club, racing club and the Queensland Pastoral and Agricultural Society. When he died on 28 April 1876 he left a reputation for 'larky humour', thoroughness and integrity. Of his nine surviving children, Henry, John and William represented Dalby, Fassifern and Aubigny respectively in the Legislative Assembly, while Jane married the merchant George Harris and became grandmother to Governor-General Lord Casey.

George Henry, his eldest son, was born at Ipswich on 6 November 1840. Educated at The King's School, Parramatta, he attended the University of Sydney (B.A., 1858) and for the next nine years managed his father's properties on the Darling Downs. In 1867 and 1870 he topped the poll for the three-membered seat of West Moreton. When the colony was split into single-member electorates he won Fassifern, which included part of West Moreton, in November 1873, but in January he was nominated to the Legislative Council as government representative on the council and postmaster-general; he attended the 1874 intercolonial conference on cables in Sydney.

The appointment of Arthur Macalister as agent-general in 1876 brought Thorn to the fore. He formed a government in June but, finding it impossible to lead from the council, soon resigned his seat and won Ipswich in the assembly; remaining postmaster-general until July, he was also secretary of public works and mines, and served as premier until 8 March 1877; he resigned to become secretary for public lands and mines under John Douglas. Thorn's ministry was not taken seriously and (Sir) Samuel Griffith was considered the power behind the throne. On 14 February 1878 at Ellengowan he married Celia, daughter of Richard Uniacke. He resigned his seat on 20 February and spent the rest of the year travelling in Europe and representing Queensland at the Paris Universal Exhibition. On his return he held Northern Downs from 17 April 1879 to 7 September 1883, and Fassifern from 8 August 1887 to 10 May 1888 and again from 6 May 1893 to 13 March 1902.

An Anglican and a Freemason, Thorn died at Booval on 13 January 1905, survived by his wife and one of his two sons. Of vast bulk, very popular because of his good nature, genial romancing, frivolous pranks and minimal dignity, Thorn was adept at electioneering. He was full of tricks of dubious legality, 'constantly sailing', according to C. A. Bernays, 'before the wind raised by the breath of applause'.

ADDENDUM:  There is some uncertainty as to George Henry Thorn's date of birth. While a birth record states that he was born on 6 November 1840 at Brisbane Town, other documents state that he was born on 12 October 1838 in Sydney. His brother was Henry Thorn, hence the confusion.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Coote, The History of the Colony of Queensland (Brisb, 1867)
  • T. W. H. Leavitt (ed), Australian Representative Men, Qld ed (Melb, 1887)
  • H. S. Russell, The Genesis of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • N. Bartley, Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences, J. J. Knight ed (Brisb, 1896)
  • W. H. Traill, A Queenly Colony (Brisb, 1901)
  • G. Harrison (ed), Jubilee History of Ipswich (Brisb, c1910)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • M. J. Fox (ed), The History of Queensland, vol 1 (Brisb, 1919)
  • A. D. Gilchrist (ed), John Dunmore Lang, vol 2 (Melb, 1951)
  • L. E. Slaughter, Ipswich Municipal Centenary (Brisb, 1960)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1877, 1, 738.

Citation details

Helen Haenke, 'Thorn, George (1806–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 July 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

Life Summary [details]


11 April, 1806
Stockbridge, Hampshire, England


28 April, 1876 (aged 70)
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia

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