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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Murphy, Peter (1853–1925)

by Betty Crouchley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Peter Murphy (1853-1925), businessman, was born on 29 June 1853 at Mohill, Leitrim, Ireland, son of James Murphy, storekeeper, and his wife Ann, née King. Educated at National schools, he worked in an uncle's wine and spirit store at Mohill before reaching Brisbane in the Indus in July 1871 as a nominated immigrant. Labourer, bullock-driver, police constable in North Queensland, and grocer at Red Hill, Brisbane, he obtained a spirit dealer's licence in 1879. Later he conducted the Railway Co-operative Store and a wholesale spirit agency in partnership with William Healion whose niece, Ellen Imelda Bulcock, he married on 16 February 1885 in St Stephen's Cathedral.

Murphy became licensee of the Burgundy Hotel, Roma Street, in 1883 and in 1884 opened the Transcontinental, which soon had the largest bar trade in Brisbane. President of the Queensland United Licensed Victuallers' Association for several terms and a successful hotel broker, from 1893 he was a director (later chairman) of the reconstituted brewery firm, Perkins & Co. Ltd. With his usual business acumen he became a shareholder in its rivals, Queensland Brewery Ltd, and Castlemaine Brewery and Quinlan Gray & Co. Brisbane Ltd.

Diversifying his interests, Murphy invested mainly in businesses of Catholic friends, in particular in Cummins & Campbell Pty Ltd, Townsville, and McDonnell & East, of which he was the initial financial backer and alternate managing director. He held directorships in the City Electric Light Co. Ltd and the Union Trustee Co. of Australia Ltd and from 1907 to 1914 partnered P. J. Leahy in a stock and station agency. His property holdings were extensive: tenants included hotels, the Theatre Royal and the State Butchery Department.

Appointed to the Legislative Council on 4 May 1904, Murphy for a time was the only member sympathetic to Labor, although he never joined the party. His most significant role was as spokesman of the liquor trade. Overseas travel had instructed him in prohibition and 'local option', and he surprised the Denham government by the vigour and efficacy of his opposition to the 1911 liquor bill. When the Ryan government took office the pragmatic Murphy, father-in-law of J. A. Fihelly and with influential Labor friends, was untroubled by fears of the ascendancy of the temperance faction. His confidence was not misplaced; Queensland was the only State in which hotels remained open until 11 p.m. throughout World War I.

The archetypal Irish-Australian, genial, generous, honorary life member of the Philanthropic Institute, Murphy believed drinking and gambling were inherent in human nature. An advocate of State lotteries, a racehorse owner, committee-member of the Queensland Turf and Brisbane Tattersall's clubs, and a Toombul Racecourse trustee, he financed the sporting paper, The Pink 'Un, with M. J. Barry, later Brisbane's first Labor mayor.

Murphy died at his home Glostermin, Hamilton, on 24 February 1925 and was buried in Nudgee Roman Catholic cemetery. His wife, four sons and four daughters survived him and inherited most of his estate, valued for probate at £295,839.

Select Bibliography

  • Brisbane Courier, 4 May 1904, 25 Feb 1925
  • Votes and Proceedings (Queensland), 1901, 3, p 939, 969
  • private information.

Citation details

Betty Crouchley, 'Murphy, Peter (1853–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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