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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thatcher, Thomas (1886–1948)

by John Laverty

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Thomas Thatcher (1886-1948), educationist, was born on 13 November 1886 at Laidley, Queensland, eighth and youngest child of Thomas Thatcher, a Primitive Methodist minister from England, and his Irish-born wife Jane, née Carson. Young Tom attended state schools, and Brisbane Grammar School where he won Lilley silver medals in both the lower and upper schools. After two years as an assistant probationer at Richmond Hill State School, Charters Towers, he qualified as a teacher in 1907. He then returned to Laidley and farmed for four years. A foundation student (1911) of the University of Queensland (B.A., 1917), he graduated with first-class honours in philosophy, winning the Archibald scholarship and a government gold medal. While an undergraduate, he tutored in philosophy at Women's College, served as a temporary lecturer in logic and worked for a few months as an assistant to the director of correspondence studies.

In 1915 Thatcher was appointed private secretary to Governor Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams. Four years later he was employed as parliamentary reporter for the Daily Mail and leader-writer for the Sunday Mail. He turned to fruit-growing at Glen Aplin and became a member of the Stanthorpe Shire Council. In her father's house at Fortitude Valley on 31 December 1920 he married with Presbyterian forms Olive Adam, a 24-year-old schoolteacher; they were to have eight children. Representing the Country and Progressive National Party, he stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly seat of Brisbane in 1929. From that year until 1932 he was private secretary to H. E. Sizer, the minister for labour and industry. Thatcher helped to reorganize the system of relief work, set up the Queensland Social Service League and held the post of secretary to the Unemployment Council. Defeated for the seat of Ithaca in the 1932 election, he resumed teaching, first at Brisbane State High School and then at Toowoomba State High School and Technical College.

Thatcher was appointed director of external studies, University of Queensland, on 11 December 1937. In addition to his regular duties, he edited the Calendar of the University of Queensland and the Manual of Public Examinations. He was also secretary of the public lectures committee, the appointments board and the standing committee of council. During World War II external-studies courses were offered to military personnel; after it ended, ex-servicemen and women swelled the ranks of external students. Securing the support of an assistant-director, Thatcher introduced a vacation study school in 1947, established a lending library for external students and stipulated that graduate assistants provide tutorials for them. In 1948, aided by Commonwealth funds, the university agreed to his request to set up study circles in regional centres.

Intelligent, focused and resourceful, Thatcher proved an outstanding administrator, gifted with tact and thoughtfulness, loyalty and trustworthiness. He died of cancer on 23 May 1948 in a private hospital at Vaucluse, Sydney, and was buried with Anglican rites in Toowong cemetery, Brisbane. His wife, their three sons and four of their five daughters survived him. The university's new external-studies library was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. D. Kitchen, Men of Vision (Brisb, 1985)
  • M. I. Thomis, A Place of Light and Learning (Brisb, 1985)
  • University of Queensland Archives.

Citation details

John Laverty, 'Thatcher, Thomas (1886–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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