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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Curtis, George Silas (1845–1922)

by Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

George Silas Curtis (1845-1922), auctioneer and politician, was born on 19 July 1845 at Tamworth, New South Wales, son of George Curtis, farmer, and his wife Suzanne, née Martin. Educated at Sydney Grammar School and Maitland High School, he went to Rockhampton with an overland party in 1863; he returned there in 1866 to enter Wormald's auctioneering firm, which he acquired in 1872 and developed as G. S. Curtis and Sons. As a prominent auctioneer, landholder and real estate speculator, Curtis became one of the city's most vigorous and influential public figures, first in campaigning through the Chamber of Commerce for railway extensions and a deep-water port, and from 1889 as the leading exponent of territorial separation in central Queensland.

When the Central Queensland Territorial Separation League was formed in 1889 with Curtis as chairman, the movement had entered its third and most active phase. In 1891 he attacked the 'act of gross injustice' contained in the draft constitution for Federation which prevented separation without the consent of the parliament affected. This was followed in 1893 by a petition to the Imperial government from householders of central Queensland, and by a letter from Curtis to Sir Henry Parkes seeking his support. As with similar petitions in the 1860s and 1870s, that of 1893 and others of the decade were doomed to failure.

Curtis's fluent speeches demonstrated wide reading and the vigour of his campaign for separation helped in his return in 1893 as one of Rockhampton's two members in the Legislative Assembly. In 1898 he declined to join T. J. Byrnes's ministry because it would have distracted him from his main purpose at a crucial period, and would have appeared to his voters as a compromise with irreconcilable 'Brisbane governments'. He was defeated in 1902, partly because of his bankruptcy and partly through the rise of the Labor Party.

Curtis failed in several bids to re-enter parliament, including the Federal seat of Capricornia in 1903. As a member of the Legislative Council in 1914-22 he became an extreme conservative and fought hard to save it from abolition. In 1920 he protested to Sir T. B. Robinson, Queensland agent-general in London, about the swamping of the council by 'pledged partisans of the Labour Socialist Party, which is controlled by revolutionary extremists'.

On 25 May 1875 at Rockhampton Curtis married Dorinda Ann Parker, daughter of the city's first publican; they had three sons and five daughters. He was an expert horseman. A keen musician, he played the violin in the Orpheus Club orchestra and was a member of other musical societies in Rockhampton. Curtis died in Sydney on 6 October 1922 and was buried with Anglican rites in South Head cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Queensland), 1891, 1, 1157-89, 1893, 3, 1029-51, 1894, 1, 505-65, 1898, 3, 823-30, 1899, 1st session, 121-26
  • Capricornian, 1 Aug 1891
  • Morning Bulletin, 6 Jan 1925
  • M. Walker, George Silas Curtis (held by Rockhampton & District Historical Society)
  • P. F. MacDonald papers (Rockhampton Municipal Library)
  • Henry Parkes correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Philp papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • private information.

Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Curtis, George Silas (1845–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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