Sir Edward Deas Thomson

The Argus

17 July 1879

Sir Edward Deas Thomson. Sir Edward Deas Thomson, whose long, blameless, and, in many aspects, distinguished life, has now been brought to a close, has passed his 79th year.

He was born at Edinburgh on June 1st, 1800. He was the son of Sir J Thomson, K.C.H., who occupied the position of accountant general to His Majesty's Navy, and his mother was the daughter of Mr John Freer.

He was educated first at the Edinburgh High School, and afterwards passed some years at Harrow.

His education was completed by a stay for two years at Caen, in Normandy.

On his return to England he gained some experience in mercantile matters, and then joined the office of his father, and may be credited with having assisted him to introduce a system of double entry into navy accounts.

In the year 1826 he visited America, and remained there for several months. In the following year he returned to England.

His ability would seem to have attracted the favourable attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies for be received the offer of an appointment worth 900 per annum.

He accepted the offer, but before entering on the duties of the office he exchanged this appointment for the post of clerk of the Executive and Legislative Councils in Sydney.

His long and unbroken connexion with the colony of New South Wales commenced in the year 1828 and he could thus claim to have been identified with its history for more than half a century.

He arrived in Sydney in December of that year. In 1833 he was married to the second daughter of Sir Richard Bourke, then Governor of the colony.

For several years Sir Edward Deas (then Mr) Thomson filled the post to which he had been appointed but in 1837 he became Colonial Secretary and registrar of records, and was made a member both of the Executive and Legislative Councils.

For a period of nineteen years and a half he held the position of leader of the Government, a position next only to that of the Governor.

He took an active part in the preparation of the various measures then submitted, and to him was entrusted the duty of introducing them in the Legislative Council.

He fulfilled the functions of his office with distinguished ability, and to the satisfaction of the colony as a whole.

Sir Edward Deas Thomson was a believer in the principles of free trade.

He established a free trade tariff, limiting the duties to a few articles of consumption, and this tariff remained for many years in force.

He also assisted materially in the important work of framing the constitution for New South Wales adapting as far as possible the English constitution to the altered circumstances of a new country.

He accompanied Mr Wentworth to England to watch the passage of the measure through the Imperial Parliament.

Before he left the colony on this duty a gratifying tribute signifying the respect and esteem in which he was held was paid to him.

He was presented with a testimonial raised by public subscription, with one-half of which a piece of plate was purchased, and the other moiety he bestowed as an endowment for a scholarship in the University.

Whilst in Europe he acted as commissioner for New South Wales at the first Paris Exhibition.

The Constitution Act having become law he returned to the colony, and was invited to undertake the duty of forming the first Administration under responsible government.

Owing to adverse circumstances he did not succeed in forming a Ministry and the task devolved on Mr. Stuart A. Donaldson, who was more fortunate, but whose Government only lasted two months.

In 1856, Sir Edward Deas Thomson received the honour of the Companionship of the Bath, in recognition of his valuable public services.

He was also appointed a member of the Legislative Council and received a pension of 2,000 a year.

The Cowper Ministry was not more stable than its predecessor and on October 3, 1856, the third Administration under responsible government was formed by Mr Henry Watson Parker.

Sir E. Deas Thomson acted as representative of the Government in the Legislative Council and as vice president of the Executive Council, but held no office.

Among his colleagues were Mr. Donaldson, Mr. (now Sir) John Hay, the present President of the Legislative Council and Mr. (now Sir) William Manning, now a judge of the Supreme Court.

This Ministry resigned on September 7,1857, and since that time Sir Edward Deas Thomson took no prominent part m political life beyond the active and conscientious discharge of his duties as a member of the Legislative Council.

He received the honour of K.C.M.G. in 1874.

Sir Edward Deas Thomson always evinced an active interest in the social improvement of the colony. He had a close and intimate connexion with the Sydney University from its creation in 1850. He was one of the earliest fellows.

From 1862 to 1865 he filled the position of vice chancellor, and from 1865 until the pre sent year - a period of 13 years - that of chancellor.

In 1877, after having served as chancellor for 12 successive years, he intimated his intention to retire, but at the senate's request he accepted re election for a further term of three years.

Failing health, however caused him to resign quite recently, and he was succeeded by Sir William Manning, who, at the commemoration held on June 22 1877, paid a high tribute to his sagacity and great administrative experience.

A portrait by Signor Capalti, of Rome, and a bust by Signor Fantachiotti, of Florence, obtained by public subscription, are placed in the great hall of the University.

Sir Edward was also vice president of the Paris International Exhibition Commission, Crown trustee of the Australian Museum, and president of the Infirmary.

For several years he was president of the Australian Jockey Club.