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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Skene, Thomas (1845–1910)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Thomas Skene (1845-1910), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

Thomas Skene (1845-1910), by Swiss Studios, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23504825

Thomas Skene (1845-1910), pastoralist and politician, was born on 15 December 1845 at Mount Mitchell station, Port Phillip District, eldest son of William Skene, Scottish-born pastoralist, and his wife Jane, née Robertson. William acquired substantial properties in the Hamilton district and was a member of the Legislative Council in 1870-76. Thomas was educated at Cavendish and Scotch College, Melbourne (1860-64). In 1865 he attended the University of Aberdeen for one term before embarking on a prolonged tour of Europe and the United States of America.

After his return to Victoria in 1868 Skene ran his father's property, Bassett, near Branxholme, which he inherited in 1877. On 2 August 1871 in Melbourne, he had married Scottish-born Margaret Scott Anderson. At Bassett Skene bred merino sheep but also built up a highly regarded Lincoln stud. He sold Bassett in 1882 to finance a speculative sheep-farming venture in New Mexico, U.S.A. Travelling through New Mexico, Texas and on to Mexico, Skene spent five weeks in Mexico City attempting to negotiate the purchase of large tracts of land on behalf of himself and several other young Western District pastoralists who accompanied him. Unable to come to terms with the Mexican government he returned to Victoria via New York and England.

In 1883 Skene acquired Marnoo, a station near Rupanyup; he sold it in 1906 and purchased Urana South station in the Riverina. From 1892 he maintained a home in Melbourne. Skene was briefly a Portland shire-councillor and later served on the Stawell Shire Council (1889-91). He was president of both the Hamilton and Stawell Pastoral and Agricultural societies. A founder and vice-president of the Chamber of Agriculture, he was a councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria from 1892 and its president in 1897-99 and 1906-08. Skene was also chairman and president of the Colonial Bank of Australasia and a director of the Trustees Executors & Agency Co. Ltd.

In 1892 he was an unsuccessful conservative candidate for Dundas. A strong advocate of Federation, he won the Federal seat of Grampians in March 1901 and, although a 'moderate free trader', at first supported the Barton ministry. Unable to accept what he saw as a 'distinctly protective' tariff, he joined the Free Trade group in October 1901. A 'very kindly' man of great integrity, Skene was much liked and respected by his fellow parliamentarians. His temperate views and quiet common sense made him an important link between the two non-Labor groups. Although he was a hesitant and infrequent speaker, his speeches were carefully researched and persuasive. He argued for the encouragement of closer settlement and put his ideas into practice by subdividing Marnoo. He was a member of a select committee (1904) and royal commission (1905-06) on old-age pensions. In 1906 he did not recontest Grampians; he chose to run for the Senate but was defeated. At the time of his death he had been selected on the Fusionist government's Senate ticket.

Tall, strongly built, spectacled, with a 'wind-chafed' countryman's face, he 'always retained the air of the educated man'. Skene died at his Sandringham home on 15 March 1910 and was buried in Brighton cemetery. His wife, two sons and three daughters survived him; his eldest son had been killed in the South African War.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • D. Garden, Hamilton, a Western District History (Melb, 1984)
  • Pastoralists' Review, 15 Apr 1899, 15 Mar 1907
  • Punch (Melbourne), 8 Mar 1906
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Mar 1910.

Additional Resources

  • profile, Argus (Melbourne), 16 March 1910, p 12
  • profile, Argus (Melbourne), 16 November 1906, p 5

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Skene, Thomas (1845–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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