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Moubray, Thomas (1825–1891)

by Anthony R. Rainer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Thomas Moubray (1825-1891), businessman and alderman, was born on 12 September 1825 at Ballintra, County Donegal, Ireland, fourth and youngest son of William Mowbray, landowner of Scottish descent, and wife Euphemia, née Teevan. After local education he went with his parents in 1842 to join his eldest brother Robert in New Zealand and thence to northern Van Diemen's Land. In 1848 Thomas went to Melbourne where he entered the softgoods business.

In 1853 the foundations for a prosperous business and personal wealth were laid when Moubray, Lush & Co., wholesale and retail drapers, outfitters, silk mercers, carpet and furniture warehousemen, was established with Thomas as senior partner. With larger premises in 1878 the firm was reconstituted as Moubray, Rowan & Hicks. Moubray retired from the firm in 1891. He was said to have 'never entered into a business speculation which did not turn out successful'. His involvement in many commercial ventures won him high repute in financial circles. From 1870 he was a director of the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd and in 1881-91 chairman of the board, where 'his genial tact was responsible for the fact that during the whole period of his chairmanship there was not a single “division” at the board'. In 1869-74 and 1879-91 he was a director of the National Mutual Life Association and at different times the Union Trustee Co., vice-chairman of Goldsbrough, Mort & Co. and a founding director of the Victoria Mutual Building and Investment Co. and of the St James Estate Co. He was largely responsible for the amalgamation in 1878 of Melbourne's three gas companies into the Metropolitan Gas Co. and was its deputy chairman for many years.

Although he rejected many offers of nomination to parliament he represented Lonsdale Ward in the Melbourne City Council as a councillor from 21 February 1865 and alderman from 28 April 1877. On 9 October 1868 he was unanimously elected mayor for a year. Apart from entertaining the Duke of Edinburgh, his mayoral term was comparatively uneventful. He continued the works begun in 1867 by J. S. Butters, such as the new Town Hall and the Western Market, laid down many miles of new streets, improved the cleansing and lighting, attempted to modernize buildings on the main streets and struggled with the government to secure more parklands and more assistance in combating the city's drainage and sewerage problems which were then extremely serious. To inform the citizens Moubray had the corporation by-laws published for sale as a pamphlet and completed his term without having to raise a loan. He also served the council for many years as chairman of the Public Works Committee, which carried out much of the administrative work; in 1877-79 he represented the council on the Harbor Trust of which he was chairman, and in 1891 on the new Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, though ill health prevented him from playing an active part.

For some time Moubray was a member of the Early Closing Association which campaigned for shorter working hours for shop employees. With G. S. Coppin and others in 1869 he was a founding member of the Old Colonists' Association of Victoria and donated some homes to the old colonists' 'village'. He gave extensively and unostentatiously to many charities, especially hospitals. Of literary bent, he had a large knowledge of the British poets and contributed a series of articles to the Age which attracted attention. He was married on 3 December 1864 to the widow Emma Augusta Griffith, née Dry; though childless he contributed to the education and upbringing of several of his and his wife's relations. He was much respected for his business acumen and integrity. After months of ill health he died of valvular heart disease on 25 September 1891 at his home, Armadale, St Kilda Road, South Yarra.

Select Bibliography

  • Garryowen (E. Finn), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne (Melb, 1888)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • I. Selby, History of Melbourne (Melb, 1924)
  • National Mutual Life Assn of Australasia, A Century of Life (Melb, 1969)
  • Bankers' Magazine of Australasia, 5 (1891-92)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 19 Oct 1891
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Oct 1865, 26 Sept 1891
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 Sept 1891
  • Goldsbrough Mort & Co. records, Moubray estate, 2/655 (Australian National University Archives)
  • Moubray letters and papers (privately held).

Citation details

Anthony R. Rainer, 'Moubray, Thomas (1825–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/moubray-thomas-4263/text6887, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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