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Byrnes, Thomas Joseph (DNB01)

BYRNES, THOMAS JOSEPH (1860–1898), premier of Queensland, born in Brisbane, Queensland, in November 1860, was the son of Irish Roman catholic parents. He was educated at the Bowen primary school, gained two state scholarships, and entered the Brisbane grammar school. He graduated B.A. and LL.B. at Melbourne University, and was called to the bar in Victoria in 1884, but returned to Queensland to practise in the following year. He quickly attained a leading position at the supreme court bar, and accepted a seat in the legislative council in August 1890, with the office of solicitor-general, in the Griffith-McIlwraith ministry. He made his reputation by the firm manner in which he dealt with the labour troubles in Queensland. A conflict between the shearers' union and the pastoralist association on the subject of the employment of non-union labourers by members of the association almost attained the dimensions of an insurrection in the Clermont districts. Woolsheds were fired, policemen ‘held up,’ and a state of terrorism established. To meet the emergency Byrnes introduced Mr. Balfour's Peace Preservation Act of 1887, with necessary modifications. It was carried in one week's fierce parliamentary struggle, during which all the members of the labour party were suspended. Byrnes then despatched an adequate force of volunteers to the seat of trouble, who effectually quelled lawlessness.

In 1897 Byrnes accompanied the premier. Sir Hugh Muir Nelson, to England on the occasion of the queen's diamond jubilee. Returning after visiting the east of Europe, he succeeded Nelson as premier in March 1898, the first native-born prime minister of Queensland. The short period of his administration was marked by a vigorous policy. He supported Australian federation, and was desirous of establishing one great university for the whole of Australia. He died at Brisbane on 27 Sept. 1898, and was buried in Toowong cemetery.

[Australasian Review of Reviews, October 1898; Times, 28 Sept. 1898; Daily Chronicle, 1 Oct. 1898; Melbourne Argus, 28–30 Sept. 1898.]

E. I. C.