BYRNES, Thomas Joseph (1860-1898)


BYRNES, Thomas Joseph (1860-1898)
premier of Queensland
was born of Irish parents at Spring Hill, Queensland, on 11 November 1860. When six years old his parents removed to Bowen where he attended the local state school. In 1873 he competed for a scholarship of the annual value of £50, and was top of the list for all Queensland. Going on to Brisbane Grammar School for some years, he sat for the matriculation examination in Melbourne in 1878, and won the scholarship for history, geography, English and French. He began the course for the degree of LL.B. and at the end of his first year was awarded the exhibition for Greek, Latin and logic. He graduated LL.B. in 1884, returned to Brisbane, and after reading for a year with P. Real (afterwards a judge of the supreme court of Queensland) began to practise as a barrister. He was quickly successful and within a few years was making a large income. In August 1890 Sir Samuel Griffith (q.v.) offered him the portfolio of solicitor-general in his ministry with a seat in the upper house. Byrnes accepted but in 1893 stood for the legislative assembly and was elected for Cairns. He was attorney-general in the next ministry under Sir Thomas McIlwraith (q.v.), and held the same position in the succeeding Nelson ministry. When Nelson became president of the legislative council early in 1898, though Byrnes was easily the youngest man in the ministry, there was a general feeling that he should be the next premier. He took office in April 1898 and almost at once made a tour of the colony, so that he might become familiar with the general conditions. Shortly after the opening of parliament, though apparently in robust health, he took ill and died of pneumonia at Brisbane on 27 September 1898.
Byrnes was in office for the whole of his political life of over eight years; a record that is probably unique. He was a man of fine character, urbane, broad-minded and tactful, one of the most able men who ever entered the Queensland parliament. He was thought by some people to be too conservative, others considered him a radical. The truth possibly was that he was content to move one step at a time and was constitutionally unable to promise the people more than could be performed. He was in favour of federation, and had he lived there was scarcely a position in federal politics to which he might not have aspired.
The Queenslander, 1 October 1898; The Review of Reviews, Australasian edition, October 1898; C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years. There is an interesting estimate of Byrnes, discriminating and objective, by A. G. Stephens in The Bulletin, 8 October 1898.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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