Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Thomas Joseph Byrnes

Thomas Joseph Byrnes was an early prominent Queenslander, being Premier of the State in 1898. Born in 1860 into a large, impoverished Irish Catholic family , he excelled at school, and studied arts and law at Melbourne University in Victoria graduating in 1884. Shortly after, he returned to Brisbane where he began a successful practice. He soon turned to politics, and was appointed as attorney-general of Queensland in March 1893.

On the 13th April, 1898, Byrnes became Premier of Queensland. Allegedly he had far more electoral appeal than any of his undistinguished older colleagues who, despite their covert dislike for him, had to accept their youngest member as leader. Unfortunately, he succumbed to a sudden attack of measles followed by pneumonia on 27 September 1898 after only 5 months in office. He was seen to be constituting a more progressive form of government than Queensland had yet seen, though in concrete terms his five months premiership had accomplished little. His popular policies and well-publicized defence of Queensland interests contributed to the enormous public distress, with large crowds attending his state funeral.

In Brisbane, a Byrnes Memorial Fund was established and this £2,000 bronze statue was erected, originally in Petrie Bight at the junction of Boundary and Wickham Streets, and then transferred to where it now resides in Centenary Place. It was sculpted by Sir Bertram Macenall. This is considered of historical significance as Brisbane's first statue. I love that people of this calibre are recognised, even if he was a politician. He is another example of how people can rise above others perceived lowly expectations.

Cheers, I Love Brisbane, Wes.

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