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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kennedy, Thomas James (1859–1929)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Thomas James Kennedy (1859-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

Thomas James Kennedy (1859-1929), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23386507

Thomas James Kennedy (1859-1929), farmer and politician, was born on 14 June 1859 at Moonee Ponds, Victoria, third child of James Kennedy, labourer, and his wife Margaret, née Reilly, both from Tipperary, Ireland. His early years were spent at Gisborne where he worked as a rural labourer before establishing his own farm at Cobram in 1877. On 2 February 1887 at Yarrawonga, with Catholic rites, he married Bridget Hanrahan.

Kennedy served on the Yarrawonga Shire Council (1889-94) and was president in 1892-94. In 1893, campaigning as a Liberal protectionist, he contested the Legislative Assembly seat of Benalla and Yarrawonga at a by-election. Kennedy and his conservative opponent, J. M. Templeton, both polled 753 votes; the returning officer's casting vote gave the seat to Templeton. Kennedy successfully appealed against the result and in a new poll won by sixty votes. He retained the seat until 1901.

In parliament Kennedy was regarded as a 'Lib-Lab' man. He supported the concept of a state bank, advocated a compulsory arbitration system and admired the Labor Party's 'splendid discipline'. However, he could not countenance a land tax. He considered himself bound by 'measures not men' and, although sympathetic to the Turner government, voted in 1899 for the no confidence motion which brought in the McLean ministry. After the 1900 election he urged both Liberal factions to heal the 'unjustifiable rift' between them. He served on enquiries relating to the establishment of a state bank, the failure of the Mildura settlement, law reform, locomotive spark arresters and (as chairman) the Leongatha labour colony.

In 1901 Kennedy resigned from State parliament and was elected to the House of Representatives for Moira. He was a 'singularly loyal' Protectionist and a forthright exponent of White Australia but retained his reputation for independence, voting against his party's proposals for establishment of the High Court of Australia and the East-West Transcontinental Railway. A colleague, R. A. Crouch, recalled him as a 'fine, homely man', tall, bearded and usually wearing a slouch hat. He maintained his leaning towards 'state socialism', declaring that 'no section of the community has derived more benefit from it than have the farmers of Victoria'. In 1906, following a redistribution, Kennedy failed by thirty-two votes to win the seat of Echuca. He petitioned against the result and, as in 1893, succeeded in having the poll voided. At the subsequent by-election he was soundly defeated.

Kennedy was appointed chairman of the Victorian Closer Settlement Board in 1910. In 1915 a royal commission condemned the activities of the board, finding that it had paid excessive prices for unsuitable land. Kennedy's lack of administrative experience was emphasized by the commission's discovery of 'hundreds of sheets of minutes' written by him on matters which should have been attended to by others. Kennedy defended himself, claiming that ministerial interference was the 'curse of the Board'. Nevertheless he was not reappointed and his public career was blighted. Two years later he stood for his old State seat, Benalla, and lost his deposit.

About 1919 Kennedy took up farming and grazing at Buffalo and died there on 16 February 1929. Predeceased by his wife, he was buried in Cobram cemetery. Three daughters and a son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1915, 1 (C2), p 785, 2 (21), p 39
  • Cobram Courier, 21 Feb 1929.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Kennedy, Thomas James (1859–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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