McIlwraith, Thomas (DNB01)
McILWRAITH, Sir THOMAS (1835–1900), premier of Queensland, son of John Mcllwraith of Ayr, Scotland, and his wife Janet Hamilton, daughter of John Howat, was born at Ayr on 17 May 1835, and educated at the academy in that town and at Glasgow University for the profession of an engineer. In 1854 he followed an elder brother to Victoria and obtained employment on the Victorian railways, and afterwards with the well-known contractors, Cornish & Bruce. In 1861, having gradually bought up a good deal of land in Queensland, he began to reside there in part and give much attention to pastoral pursuits; in 1869 he was elected to the legislative assembly of that colony as member for Maranoa, and in 1870 settled entirely in Queensland.
In January 1874 Mcllwraith took office as minister for works and mines under Arthur Macalister [q. v.], but resigned in October, and for some time took no special part in politics. In 1878 he was returned for Mulgrave, and on 21 Jan. 1879, after the defeat of the ministry of the Hon. John Douglas, became premier and colonial treasurer. The programme of his first session embraced a large scheme of local government and a reform of the immigration system. On 24 Dec. 1881 he took the post of colonial secretary instead of treasurer. Probably the most important event of his administration was his annexation of New Guinea to Queensland on 4 April 1883; it was a daring act for a colonial statesman, and, after rousing much criticism at home, was disallowed by Gladstone's government. As an almost immediate result of the disallowance, and to the great indignation of the Australian colonies, Germany seized New Guinea and several places in the Western Pacific; and the imperial government, was shortly compelled to follow McIlwraith's lead and take over a large part of New Guinea. On the question of a railway concession to an English company on the land grant system he was left in a minority at the general election of this year, and resigned office in November 1883, after being twice beaten in the House of Assembly. Very soon after this defeat he left for Great Britain, where he spent some months, receiving the freedom of Ayr and an honorary LL.D. from Glasgow University.
On his return to Queensland McIlwraith professed to have retired from politics, but in 1888 he again stood for parliament, was elected for North Brisbane, and on a programme of a 'national party' came into power at once on 13 June as premier, holding office both as colonial secretary and treasurer. He began by a difference with the governor, Sir Anthony Musgrave [q. v.], on the contention that the latter was bound to follow the advice of his ministers in exercising the crown's prerogative of mercy; the point was decided in Mcllwraith's favour. In October he came into collision with the imperial government on the subject of the appointment of a governor; but in this case his contention was not made good. On 30 Nov. Mcllwraith relinquished the position of premier to Mr. Boyd Dunlop Morehead, though he remained in the cabinet without portfolio and proceeded on a voyage to China and Japan for his health. In September 1889, soon after his return, he split with his colleagues on questions of finance, and in the new session joined with his former opponent, Sir Samuel Griffith, to defeat them. In August 1890 he became colonial treasurer in Griffith's ministry. At this time he received an invitation from Scotland to return thither and contest Ayr, his native city, but he declined. In March 1891 he represented Queensland at the federation convention held at Sydney. In November 1892 he took another voyage for his health, this time to Northern India, returning in March 1893 to find that the premier had resigned and the ministry was in a manner in commission. On 27 March he was called upon to form a ministry. A general election soon followed, and he came in again with a larger working majority than any administration Queensland had ever had before. The difficulty which faced him at that time was the attitude of the so-called labour party. On 27 Oct. he resigned the position of premier owing to the failure of his health, but nominally remained in the ministry; on 15 Jan. 1893 he came to England for medical advice; and in a short time his illness became so pronounced that he could not return to Queensland. For six years following he was in the hands of specialists and confined to the house. In 1895 he was offered but declined the position of agent-general. He died on 17 July 1900 at 208 Cromwell Road, London, and was buried at Ayr.
Mcllwraith's reputation was not confined to his own colony, where his influence was commanding. But his connection with the Queensland Investment and Land Mortgage Company involved him in a series of legal actions which came to an end in 1892. Subsequently he was severely criticised over the conduct of business by the Queensland National bank, of which he was a director. He was an associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers and was made K.C.M.G. in 1882.
Mcllwraith married, on 14 June 1879, Harriette Ann, daughter of Hugh Mosman of Armidale, New South Wales, who with four daughters survived him.[Innes Addison's Graduates of Glasgow, p. 376; Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biogr.; British Australasian, 19 July 1900; The Queenslander, 21 July 1900; Queensland Blue Books and Parliamentary Debates.]