Thomas Joseph Byrnes

Thomas Joseph Byrnes (11 November 1860 – 27 September 1898) was Premier of Queensland from April 1898 until his death in September of the same year, having previously served in several ministerial positions in his parliamentary career.[1] He was the first Roman Catholic Premier of Queensland and the first to die in office.

Thomas Joseph Byrnes
Thomas Joseph Byrnes.jpg
12th Premier of Queensland
In office
13 April 1898 – 27 September 1898
Preceded bySir Hugh Nelson
Succeeded byJames Dickson
ConstituencyWarwick
Member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly
for Cairns
In office
29 April 1893 – 4 April 1896
Preceded byFrederick Wimble
Succeeded byIsidor Lissner
Member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly
for Warwick
In office
4 April 1896 – 27 September 1898
Preceded byArthur Morgan
Succeeded byArthur Morgan
Member of the Queensland Legislative Council
In office
12 August 1890 – 13 March 1893
Personal details
Born(1860-11-11)11 November 1860
Spring Hill, Queensland
Died27 September 1898(1898-09-27) (aged 37)
Brisbane, Queensland
Resting placeToowong Cemetery
NationalityAustralian
Political partyMinisterialist
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne
OccupationBarrister

Early lifeEdit

Byrnes was born in Spring Hill, Queensland, to Irish immigrants Patrick Byrnes and his wife Anna, née Tighe.[1] Byrnes was educated at Bowen State School, then, winning a scholarship where he topped the state,[2] he studied at Brisbane Grammar School and then studied arts and law at the University of Melbourne, graduating with honours in both. During his time at the University of Melbourne he became Prelector of the Dialectic Society of Trinity College (University of Melbourne),[3] although he was a non-residential student, winning the Society's inaugural Wigram Allen Prize in 1883, only months after it had been established by Sir George Wigram Allen.[4] In 1882-83 Byrnes taught at Xavier College.[1]

 
Monument at the burial site of Thomas Joseph Byrnes at Brisbane's Toowong Cemetery.

CareerEdit

Byrnes was admitted as a barrister in Victoria on 8 July 1884 and returned for a Queensland admission on 5 August; he then began a successful career as a barrister.[1] Byrnes' talent brought him to the attention of fellow barrister Sir Samuel Griffith, then Premier of Queensland, who had him appointed Solicitor-General with a seat in the Legislative Council. Byrnes stood down from the Legislative Council to successfully stand for Cairns in the Legislative Assembly in 1893. He represented Cairns until 1896, after which he represented Warwick in the Legislative Assembly from 1896 to his death in 1898.[5]

Byrnes continued his private law practice and participated in two major Supreme Court of Queensland cases. In the Queensland Investment Co. v. Grimley case, Byrnes successful conduct of the defence was praised widely. In the John Robb arbitration case of 1892, praise for Byrnes skill was accompanied by public objection to the high fees paid to Samuel Griffith as leading counsel and to Byrnes as one of his assistants.[1] In 1895 and 1897, Byrnes represented Queensland at meetings of the Federal Council of Australasia.[1]

Sir Thomas McIlwraith appointed him as Attorney-General of Queensland in the Continuous Ministry, and when Hugh Nelson stepped down as Premier; Byrnes, the youngest member of the Ministry by a large margin, became Premier.

 
Statue of Thomas Joseph Byrnes in Centenary Place, Brisbane
 
Statue of Thomas Joseph Byrnes in Warwick

Opposition to FederationEdit

Byrnes' brief five month premiership was dominated by the question of Federation. Prior to his premiership he had been an eloquent and forceful opponent of Federation. He contended that Federation was a vainglorious manoeuvre of self-seeking politicians with 'imperial' notions, which did recognize the reality of Australia as a minor power, but succumbed to 'thoughts in our mind that we are a very much larger country in the universe than we really are'. The projected Federation would only 'vainly simulate the pretensions of another smaller empire'; an Australian empire which 'aimed at unification rather than federation', and thereby stymie the development of Queensland. [6]

Instead of the Federation that came to pass, Byrnes favoured political integration by means of the Federal Council of Australasia, an appointed body which had met biennially since 1885. At its 1897 meeting he proposed that the Council's legitimacy be enhanced by the direct election, by voters, of delegates to the Council. This proposal was opposed by leading Federationist members of the Council, and was defeated, with 9 delegates in favour and 9 against. This effectively spelt the end of the Council.

On becoming premier in April 1898, Byrnes adopted a more circumspect position on Federation. On a tour of the pro-Federation Queensland north his earlier fighting words were replaced by diffuse professions of federalism in the abstract. In July 1898 Byrnes accepted an invitation by the leader of the NSW No campaign, Jack Want, to confer with the NSW premier George Reid. What passed between the two premiers at their Sydney conference remains one of the tantalizing unknowns of the federation story. The outcome of this excursion to Sydney was catastrophic to Byrnes on another account entirely. [7]

DeathEdit

Byrnes' possibly brilliant future was cut short by contracting measles on his visit to Sydney in July 1898, which developed into pneumonia. He died on 27 September 1898. Byrnes was accorded a state funeral which proceeded from St Stephen's Cathedral to the Toowong Cemetery.[8] Never married, he was survived by several brothers and sisters.[9]

LegacyEdit

Byrnes is commemorated by two statues, one in Centenary Place in Brisbane and the heritage-listed T J Byrnes Monument in Warwick, both funded by public subscriptions.[1]

The commissioning of the Brisbane statue encountered a series of setbacks. The sculptor Achille Simonetti was approached by the committee to create the statue. However, Simonetti had never seen Byrnes during his life and produced a plaster cast from photographs for the committee's approval before commencing the statue. The committee did not think the cast was sufficiently like Byrnes and there were a number of iterations before they were satisfied.[10][11] Then there was an argument of whether Byrnes should be depicted in a university gown or in an ordinary frock coat, deciding on a frock coat in order to depict Byrnes as the premier rather than as a lawyer.[12] Then as Simonetti was tendering to provide a 9-foot-tall bronze statue for £1,800, a local sculptor James Laurence Watts offered to provide the statue for only £1,000, dividing the committee.[13][14] However, after Byrnes' sisters indicated their strong preference for Simonetti's work and Simonetti offered a revised tender of £1400, the committee went ahead and commissioned the statue from Simonetti.[15] Early in 1900, the argument about the clothing erupted once more when Simonetti expressed an artistic preference for robes rather than a frock coat, and the committee reversed its decision in favour of robes.[16] During this argument, Simonetti took ill and died. It was then announced in the newspaper that it had been Simonetti's wish that his former pupil, James White, should complete his unfinished commissions.[17] The committee negotiated with White,[18] but finally gave the commission to sculptor Bertram Mackennal.[19]

The township of Byrnestown in Queensland is named after him, as is its main street Byrnes Parade and its railway station.[20]

St Thomas's Catholic Church in Camp Hill, Brisbane (then known as East Coorparoo) built in 1923 is another memorial to Byrnes. He had owned the land on which the church was built, but it had passed to his sister Matilda Margaret Maloney after his death. In 1916 she agreed to sell the land to the Catholic Church and then, on her death in 1922, bequeathed £300 towards the cost of erecting a church in memory of her brother.[21]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Rosemary Howard Gill, 'Byrnes, Thomas Joseph (1860 - 1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp 517-519. Retrieved 19 April 2010
  2. ^ Serle, Percival (1949). "Byrnes, Thomas Joseph". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 19 April 2010.
  3. ^ "DEATH OF THE QUEENSLAND PREMIER". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 27 September 1898. p. 10. Retrieved 25 August 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ "NEWS OF THE DAY". The Age. No. 8924. Victoria. 24 September 1883. p. 4. Retrieved 25 August 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Part 2.15 – Alphabetical Register of Members of the Legislative Assembly 1860–2017 and the Legislative Council 1860–1922" (PDF). Queensland Parliamentary Record 2015–2017: The 55th Parliament. Queensland Parliament. Archived from the original on 26 April 2020. Retrieved 27 April 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  6. ^ William Coleman,Their Fiery Cross of Union. A Retelling of the Creation of the Australian Federation, 1889-1914, Connor Court, Queensland, 2021, pp 194-195.
  7. ^ William Coleman,Their Fiery Cross of Union. A Retelling of the Creation of the Australian Federation, 1889-1914, Connor Court, Queensland, 2021, pp 197-198.
  8. ^ "Classified Advertising". The Brisbane Courier. 29 September 1898. p. 8. Retrieved 28 January 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ "DEATH OF THE PREMIER". Morning Bulletin. Vol. LXI, no. 10668. Queensland, Australia. 28 September 1898. p. 5. Retrieved 17 August 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ "THE SUGAR INDUSTRY". The Queenslander. Vol. LVI, no. 1236. 15 July 1899. p. 141 (Unknown). Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ "THE MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE SPEAKS OUT". The Brisbane Courier. Vol. LVI, no. 12, 955. 20 July 1899. p. 4. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ "THE BYRNES MEMORIAL". Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser. Vol. XL, no. 5986. 18 November 1899. p. 4. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "QUEENSLAND". The Age. No. 13, 960. Victoria. 30 November 1899. p. 6. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ "QUEENSLAND". The Catholic Press. Vol. III, no. 214. New South Wales. 9 December 1899. p. 9. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.Download
  15. ^ "THE BYRNES MEMORIAL". Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser. Vol. XL, no. 5997. 14 December 1899. p. 4. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  16. ^ "THE BYRNES MEMORIAL COMMITTEE". The Brisbane Courier. Vol. LVI, no. 13, 157. 14 March 1900. p. 5. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ "THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD". The Sydney Morning Herald. No. 19, 359. 30 March 1900. p. 5. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "BYRNES MEMORIAL FUND". The Brisbane Courier. Vol. LVI, no. 13, 204. 8 May 1900. p. 6. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "The Byrnes Monument in Brisbane". The W.A. Record. Vol. XXVII, no. 1147. Western Australia. 20 September 1902. p. 18. Retrieved 22 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  20. ^ "Byrnestown (entry 45325)". Queensland Place Names. Queensland Government. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  21. ^ "A NEW CHURCH". The Daily Mail. No. 6282. Queensland, Australia. 13 June 1922. p. 4. Retrieved 17 August 2019 – via National Library of Australia.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by Premier of Queensland
13 April – 27 September 1898
Succeeded by
Parliament of Queensland
Preceded by Member for Cairns
1893–1896
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member for Warwick
1896–1898
Succeeded by