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Thomas Joseph Byrnes.



Thomas Joseph Byrnes, renowned barrister and 12th Premier of Queensland was born in Spring Hill to Patrick and Anna Byrnes, chronically poor immigrants from County Sligo, Ireland. Patrick is described variously as farmer, dairyman and grazier. The family moved to Humpybong (Redcliffe) on Moreton Bay in 1861, then in 1866 to Bowen, North Queensland, where Patrick died in December the following year. Thomas was educated at Bowen State School, then, whilst a pupil teacher won a scholarship in which he topped the state, studied at Brisbane Grammar School and then studied arts and law at the University of Melbourne, graduating in arts in 1882 and law in 1884, with honours in both. In 1882-83 he taught at Xavier College.

Byrnes was admitted as a barrister in Victoria on 8th July 1884 but returned for a Queensland

admission on 5th August. In 1884-85 he read law in the chambers of Patrick Real and by 1890 had built up a large, successful practice in Brisbane. His talent brought him to the attention of fellow barrister, Sir Samuel Griffith, then premier of Queensland, who had him appointed Solicitor General with a seat in the Legislative Council. Byrnes stood down from the Legislative Council to successfully stand for Cairns in the Legislative Assembly in 1893, whereupon he represented Cairns until 1896 and then Warwick from 1896 to his death in 1898. He was appointed Attorney General in 1893 and Premier of Queensland in March 1898.

 

Queenslander Newspaper 23rd April 1898:

The New Premier.

HON. T.J. BYRNES.

"The acceptance of the Premiership by the Hon. T. J. Byrnes is an occasion which suggests more than passing reference to the occupant of the high position. It marked an epoch in the already conspicuously successful career of one of Queensland's sons, the event is not without historic importance either to the colony itself, since Mr. Byrnes may be described as the first of Queensland's youth called to fill so prominent an office In the counsels of his country. True, Mr. George Thorn was Premier for a short term, but he was born at Ipswich when " the head of navigation" was part and parcel of New South Wales. It is worth noting as a coincedence that the very year Mr. Thorn held his brief «way Mr. Byrnes was first distinguishing himself at school. Mr. Byrnes is of the period subsequent to separation, he was born In the capital, and has resided In several parts of the country. Certainly, he has travelled the length and breadth of it. and is acquainted with Its needs and Is in sympathy with its peocle. Moreover, he has seen Its history made. Mr. Byrnes was born in Leichardt Street, Spring Hill, on the 11th November, 1860.

A year or so later he removed, with his parents, to Humpybong, then the happy hunting ground of the aboriginals, a place where he got his first insight into native customs and warfare. Although only six years of age when he left Humpybong, he was sufficiently impressionable to retain many of the scenes which were then daily enacted by the hundreds of blacks who formed by far the great bulk of the population around him. The kangaroo hunts, the corroborees, the periodical excursions to the Bunya Mountains to obtain the nuts so essential to the great feasting—all these things are incidents which necessarily must impress themselves on the mind then just forming. And when we remember what Humpybong is today, and reflect on its primeval condition In the days of which we speak, it is difficult to believe that Mr Byrnes has not yet lived his two score years. Leaving his bush home on the shores of Moreton Bay. Mr. Byrnes accompanied his parents to Bowen. It was here that be began to display the genius that was in him. He was sent to the Bowen Primary School, his progression was rapid and distinguished."

 

He contracted measles then pneumonia and passed away, aged 38 years, on 27th September 1898 at Brisbane and is buried in the Brisbane General Cemetery, Toowong.

He retained a fond memory of his early days in Humpybong (Redcliffe) and also that he had not died in office at 38 years in 1898, as acting Premier of Queensland, many say he would have pushed through legislation for a rail link to the Peninsula.


The township of Byrnestown in Queensland is named after him, as is its main street Byrnes Parade.


He is commemorated by two statues, one in Centenary Place in Brisbane and the heritage-listed T J Byrnes Monument in Warwick, both funded by public subscription.


 

Thomas Joseph Byrnes is listed on the wall of the Redcliffe Wall of Fame:

A collection of portrait and information honouring the achievements of individuals who have influenced and shaped Redcliffe. The collection is in the Jetty Arcade at 139-141 Redcliffe Parade.

For a complete list of people who appear on the wall click on the following blog post:

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