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Thomson, Sir Edward Deas


Was born at Edinburgh on 1 June 1800. His father Sir John Deas Thomson, was accountant-general to the navy and married Rebecca, daughter of John Freer. Their son was educated at Edinburgh high school, and at Harrow. He afterwards spent two years in study at Caen in Normandy. He then began working with his father who at that time was reorganizing the system of keeping accounts in the navy. In 1826 Thomson visited the United States and Canada, and on his return in 1827 accepted the position of registrar of the orphan chambers at Demarara. Before leaving England he was able to arrange to exchange this position for that of clerk to the New South Wales legislative and executive councils. He arrived in Sydney in December 1828 and proved to be a valuable officer. In January 1837 he became colonial secretary at a salary of 1500 a year and held this position for nearly 20 years. He carried out his duties with much tact, and during the stormy period of the governorship of Sir George Gipps (q.v.) it has been said of him that he was personally so respected that members of the council found it almost painful to oppose him. His experience was particularly useful during the passing of the constitution bill, and he was sent with Wentworth (q.v.) to England to see the bill through the Imperial parliament. In 1854 he was given a public testimonial, half the amount subscribed being expended on a piece of plate and the remainder given to Sydney university to found a scholarship in his name. Thomson was asked by the governor, Sir William Denison (q.v.), to form the first government under the new constitution but was unable to do so. He entered the legislative council and was vice-president of the executive council in the Parker (q.v.) ministry, and on 19 August 1857 moved for a select committee on the question of Australian federation. The committee reported in favour of a federal assembly being established but the Charles Cowper (q.v.) ministry had come into power in the meantime, and the question was shelved.

Thomson continued to be a member of the legislative council until his death, but his health had suffered from his heavy work as colonial secretary and he no longer attempted to take a leading part in its proceedings. He had been granted a substantial pension on his retirement in 1856 and he now had time to devote himself to other interests. He had been an original member of the senate of the university of Sydney when it was founded in 1850, he became vice-chancellor in 1862, and was chancellor from 1865 until 1878. He took an interest in sporting matters and for some years was president of the Australian jockey Club. During his visit to England he had been made a C.B. and he was created K.C.M.G. in 1874. He died on 16 July 1879. He married the second daughter of Sir Richard Bourke (q.v.), who survived him with two sons and five daughters. His portrait is in the great hall of the university of Sydney.

Thomson had immense influence in the period just preceding responsible government. He was the ideal public servant, well-educated, capable, loyal, honest, calm and tactful, earning the respect of even the stormy spirits who brought Gipps to his grave. He showed wisdom on the financial side in his tariff bill of 1852, and, though his work for federation was based on Wentworth's, he ranks among the early federalists.


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