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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Welsby, Thomas (1858–1941)

by Ruth S. Kerr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Thomas Welsby (1858-1941), by unknown photographer, 1902

Thomas Welsby (1858-1941), by unknown photographer, 1902

Brisbane City Council Library, BCC-B120-32786

Thomas Welsby (1858-1941), company director, politician and sportsman, was born on 29 November 1858 at Ipswich (Queensland), fourth child of William Welsby, carpenter and later contractor, and his wife Hannah, née Bilsborough, both English born. Educated locally at John Scott's and Ipswich Boys' Grammar schools, Thomas joined the Bank of New South Wales in Brisbane in October 1874. Resigning as ledgerkeeper in May 1879, he joined the Australian Joint Stock Bank in Brisbane. In July 1884 he left to practise as a public accountant, trustee and auditor; he became a member of the Brisbane Stock Exchange, operated a shipping partnership and audited the Brisbane Municipal Council accounts until 1893.

A member of Booroodabin Divisional Board in 1893-1902 (chairman 1897-1900), Welsby was chairman of the New Farm State School committee in 1899-1905 and honorary treasurer of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce in 1899-1908. Instrumental in the formation of the Engineering Supply Co. of Australia in 1903, he was a director of the Royal Bank of Queensland and had interests with (Sir) Robert Philp in mining and with G. C. Willcocks, a railway contractor. Welsby was also a trustee for the Mount Garnet railway debenture holders (1901-15).

The chairmanship of directors of Queensland Brewery Ltd (1907-19) stamped Welsby's commercial importance and made him one of Brisbane's elite. He had stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly as a candidate for Fortitude Valley in 1899, 1902 and 1909; as a Ministerialist he won North Brisbane in 1911 and held Merthyr from 1912 to 1915. Nicknamed 'Bung Bung', he generally disliked parliamentary life. His maiden speech was principally about the Ipswich railway workshops near his childhood home. He deplored the passage of the Liquor Act of 1912, believed that St Helena prison should be moved to Woogaroo and the island be converted to a recreational park, and considered that State or local authorities should take over the Brisbane Tramways Co. He wanted government to assist industry by building railways, dredging the Brisbane River, and financing exploration on the Cloncurry and Palmer mining fields.

A 'club man', tall, well-built and amiable, Welsby loved history and sport. Foundation honorary treasurer (1913), president (1936-37) and vice-president (1917-36, 1937-41) of the Historical Society of Queensland, he advocated that the government subsidize the society to collect Queensland's early records. He bequeathed his large library to the society and his portrait hangs over the entrance. Welsby wrote seven books about the history of the Moreton Bay region: Schnappering (1905), Early Moreton Bay (1907), The Discoverers of the Brisbane River (1913), The History of the Royal Queensland Yacht Club (1918), Memoirs of Amity (1922), Sport and Pastime in Moreton Bay (1931) and Bribie the Basketmaker (1937). He also wrote a pamphlet, The Story of Newstead House (1939), as well as four papers for the society's journal, all demonstrating his enthusiasm for recording Queenslanders' reminiscences and for using original documents in research.

In August 1882 Welsby had been manager and half-back for Queensland's first intercolonial Rugby Union team which played in Sydney. He helped to revive the code in 1928, was a life member of the Queensland Rugby Union (president 1929-39) and donated the Welsby Cup. Foundation secretary of the Brisbane Gymnasium in 1882, he sponsored boxing matches and formed the Queensland Amateur Boxing and Wrestling Union in 1909. With a house at Amity on Stradbroke Island, Welsby was patron of the Amateur Fishing Society from 1916; a founding member of the Royal Queensland Yacht Club in 1885, he was commodore in 1903-19.

There was much sadness in his life: his father and two brothers had died by 1879; his wife Margaret Gilchrist, née Kingston, whom he had married with Presbyterian forms on 21 February 1893 at East Brisbane, died ten years later, and their only son died in childhood. Survived by two daughters, Welsby died on 3 February 1941 at New Farm, Brisbane, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £14,354.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1911-12, pp 1173, 2481, 1912, pp 390, 1271, 1935, 2810, 1913, pp 247, 2623, 1914, p 412
  • Pugh's Almanac, 1891-1903
  • Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4, no 5, 1952, p 619, 6, no 1, 1959, p 268, 11, no 4, 1983, p 126
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 4 Feb 1941
  • Australian Joint Stock Bank, Queensland staff book, and Bank of New South Wales, Register of officers (Westpac Bank Archives)
  • Brisbane Chamber of Commerce minutes, 1895-1909 (State Library of Queensland)
  • Carlton and United Breweries (Queensland) Ltd minutes, 1888-1919 (CUB Ltd, Brisbane)
  • New Farm State School file (Queensland State Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ruth S. Kerr, 'Welsby, Thomas (1858–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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