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Sir Thomas McIlwraith


1835 - 1900

Politician and financier. Born in Ayr, the brother of Andrew (1844 - 1932) and John McIlwraith (1828 - 1902). He followed his brother John to Australia in 1854 and was soon a partner in a railway engineering company in Victoria. He invested in sheep stations in Queensland but problems with drought and falling prices in the late 1860s saw him change to running cattle. He realised the potential of exporting to Britain and helped finance his brother Andrew's frozen meat venture.

His early attempts at entering politics in Victoria (1864) were unsuccessful, but he was elected to the Queensland Assembly in 1871. McIlwraith advocated economic development through borrowing, building a railway infrastructure and encouraging immigration. He was appointed Secretary for Public Works and Mines (1874) and Queensland Premier (1879).

He was accused of using his brother, Andrew, to fulfil government contracts but cleared of corruption in 1881. Knighted in 1882, his reputation was revived in the nationalist fervour following his annexation of part of New Guinea in 1883. However, he soon lost power having propounded unpopular policies in the election campaign. In 1888, he returned leading a new National Party, but resigned the premiership a few months later due to ill health and left the government the following year. Yet, in 1890, he astounded all by joining his old enemy Samuel Griffith in what became known as 'the Griffilwraith' coalition.

Financial problems with his Queensland Investment and Land Mortgage Company brought charges of fraud in 1892. McIlwraith was eventually vindicated and returned as Premier in March 1893. He resigned in October but served as Chief Secretary and Secretary for Railways until March 1895.

His career was finally ended by a banking scandal in 1896 and McIlwraith, who had returned to Britain due to ill-health, was unable to defend himself and forced to retire.

He received the Freedom of Ayr in 1884. He died in London and was buried in Ayr.


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