Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Nelson, Hugh Muir

NELSON, Sir HUGH MUIR (1835–1906), premier of Queensland, born at Kilmarnock on 31 Dec. 1835, was son of the Rev. William Lambie Nelson, LL.D. Educated first at Edinburgh High School, and then at the university, where he came under the influence of Prof. John Wilson (Christopher North), he did not graduate, his father having decided in 1853 to go to Queensland, which was then attracting a number of enterprising Scotsmen.

The father settled in the colony at Ipswich, and Nelson entered a merchant's office; but, of fine physique, he soon sought open-air work on a farm at Nelson's Ridges, some six miles from Ipswich; thence he went to manage the Eton Vale station at Darling Downs. When he married in 1870, he settled with good results on the London estate in the Dalby district.

In 1880 Nelson entered the local public life as a member of the Wambo district under a new scheme of divisional boards. In 1883, while absent on a visit to Scotland, he was elected member of the house of assembly for Northern Downs. When in 1887 this electoral district was split up, he became member for the portion known as Murilla, which he represented continuously for the rest of his public life.

On 13 March 1888 Nelson for the first time took office, as minister for railways, under Sir Thomas McIlwraith [q. v. Suppl. I], continuing when the ministry was reconstituted under Boyd Dunlop Morehead till 7 August 1890. Throughout 1891, he was leader of the opposition. Although he seems to have been a supporter of Sir Samuel Griffith, it was not till Griffith's resignation on 27 March 1893 that he took office, joining McIlwraith as colonial treasurer. On 27 October 1893 he became premier and vice-president of the executive council, combining in his own hands the offices of chief secretary and treasurer. The colony was in the throes of the anxiety and depression which followed the bank crisis of 1893; in no part of Australia was that crisis worse than in Queensland. Thus the task before the new premier was no light one; but his broad grasp of finance, coupled with extensive knowledge of the circumstances and requirements of the people, enabled him to render excellent service to Queensland during a most critical period of its history (Queensland Hansard, 1906, vol. xcvi. pp. 1-16).

In 1896 Nelson was created K.C.M.G., and in 1897 came to England to represent his colony at the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. On this occasion he was made a privy councillor and received the honorary degree of D.C.L. at Oxford. After his return he continued his dual office till 13 April 1898, when he sought a less arduous position as president of the legislative council. On 4 Jan. 1904 he received a dormant commission as lieutenant-governor of Queensland.

In 1905 he visited New Guinea, in which he was much interested: there he contracted fever, from which he never really recovered (see Queensland Parly. Deb., 1906, xcvi. 15), and he died at his residence, Gabbinbar, near Toowoomba, on 1 Jan. 1906. His death was the signal for general mourning, and he was accorded a public funeral. He was buried at Toowoomba cemetery.

Nelson was a strong man, and the greatest authority on constitutional questions that the colony had had up to that time, although he was opposed to the federation of the Australian states (Daily Record, Rockhampton, 1 Jan. 1906). He founded the Royal Agricultural Society of Toowoomba and the Austral Association. He was president of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland.

Nelson married in 1870 Janet, daughter of Duncan Mclntyre, who survived him. They had issue two sons and three daughters.

[Brisbane Courier, 2 Jan. 1906; Mennell's Dict. of Australians. Biog.; John's Notable Australians; Who's Who, 1905.]

C. A. H.