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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Burgoyne, Thomas (1827–1920)

by David Goldsworthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Thomas Burgoyne (1827-1920), by Townsend Duryea

Thomas Burgoyne (1827-1920), by Townsend Duryea

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 2398

Thomas Burgoyne (1827-1920), politician, builder and journalist, was born on 10 June 1827 at Gobe Farm near Gladestry, Radnorshire, South Wales, son of William Burgoyne, builder and farmer, and his wife Elizabeth. Educated at private schools at Ludlow, when 14 he was articled to a Hereford architect who trained him in trigonometry, surveying and building. On 28 August 1848 he married Jane Lewis, and next year they migrated to South Australia on the Royal Sovereign.

Burgoyne worked as a builder before spending a luckless year on the Victorian goldfields in 1852. In 1856 he went to Port Augusta, where he erected the first permanent building and designed St Augustine's Church; and he built homesteads, tanks and woolsheds all over the pastoral north. A teetotal Unitarian, Burgoyne established a drama club, debating society and cricket club.

The 1864 drought meant Burgoyne was unable to collect £10,000 in debts. He sold his business and worked as an auctioneer and correspondent for the South Australian Register. He was divorced in 1871 and on 30 September he married Julia Frances Cotter. He led moves towards Port Augusta's incorporation and was the first town clerk and surveyor in 1875-79; councillor in 1879-81, he was mayor in 1882. In 1877 he had founded the Port Augusta Dispatch which he edited for three years.

In 1884-1915 Burgoyne represented the enormous seat of Newcastle (Flinders) in the House of Assembly. He published a pamphlet, The Land Question (1884) in which he advocated the land nationalization theories of Henry George, and next year formed a liberal faction, the Independent (Country) Party, which influenced successive land Acts and at times claimed twenty-two members. Nicknamed 'Old Logic', Burgoyne supported free trade, progressive land tax, property tax, payment of members and retrenchment.

On 27 June 1889, against his faction's policy, he accepted ministerial office under (Sir) J. A. Cockburn as commissioner of crown lands and immigration until May 1890 and as commissioner of public works till the government fell in August. He had initiated a Crown Lands Act but later saw his ministerial interlude as a 'mistake' and resumed as party chairman. In November 1899 the six-year-old Kingston ministry reintroduced a previously rejected household franchise bill: Burgoyne and his group sponsored a motion which led to the government's fall. Asked to form a ministry, Burgoyne declined, but was minister for education in the conservative V. L. Solomon's subsequent one-week government. In 1906 Burgoyne chaired the meeting to establish A. H. Peake's Liberal and Democratic Union and spoke eloquently of the need for Liberals to hold the ring between Labor and conservatives. In 1915, aged 87, he lost his seat.

Dignified and respected, Burgoyne had been a founder and first president of the South Australian Institutes Association, whose early journals he edited, and a governor of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia. In 1908 he painted a portrait of Premier Tom Price. For the last ten years of his life Burgoyne was lame. Predeceased by his second wife, he died on 23 March 1920 at Fullarton and was buried in Magill cemetery. He had eleven children by his first wife and four by his second. His estate was sworn for probate at £1195.

Select Bibliography

  • The ‘Register’ Guide to the Parliament of South Australia (Adel, 1887)
  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1908)
  • South Australian Institutes Journal, 30 Apr 1931
  • Register (Adelaide), 27 June 1889, 10 Jane 1916
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 10 June 1919, 24 Mar 1920
  • Observer (Adelaide), 27 Mar 1920
  • private information.

Citation details

David Goldsworthy, 'Burgoyne, Thomas (1827–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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