Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, Edward Deas

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THOMSON, Sir EDWARD DEAS (1800–1879), Australian official and politician, the second son of Sir John Deas Thomson, accountant-general of the navy, and of Rebecca, daughter of John Freer, was born at Edinburgh on 1 June 1800. He was educated at the high school, Edinburgh, and at Harrow, and thence went for two years to a college at Caen. Returning to London, he prepared for a mercantile career, and in the meantime assisted his father with the public accounts in a semi-official capacity. In 1826 he made a journey to the United States to look after a brother's affairs, and afterwards travelled through the States and Canada.

In 1827 Thomson was appointed by the influence of William Huskisson [q. v.] clerk of the council of New South Wales, arriving in Sydney in December 1828. He won the favour of the governor, Sir Richard Bourke [q. v.], who in 1837 appointed Thomson to be colonial secretary and registrar of deeds, and a member of the executive and legislative councils. The appointment has been denounced as a job (Rusden, History of Australia, ii. 175), but Thomson proved himself fully equal to his new post, and when in 1843 he became leader of the house, he astonished his friends by his capacity and tact (ib. ii. 304). He was chairman of the committee on transportation in 1849, took a prominent part in regulating the early goldfields, and in framing an electoral act prior to the change of the constitution (1851). As adviser to Governor Sir Charles Fitzroy [q. v.], he was for a time the most powerful man in New South Wales. His views on fiscal subjects were pronounced, and he is credited with having founded the present fiscal system of the colony. Early in 1854 he was granted two years' leave on the ground of ill-health, but at the same time he was appointed with William Charles Wentworth [q. v.] to watch the progress through the House of Commons of the bill creating a new constitution for New South Wales. In 1855 he acted as commissioner for the colony at the Paris exhibition. On 24 Jan. 1856, soon after his return, he was requested to form the first government under a responsible constitution, but declined, and took a seat in the ministry of Sir Henry Watson Parker [q. v.] as vice-president of the legislative council, retiring on 6 June on a large pension from his office of colonial secretary. He was at this time presented by the colonists with a service of plate and a purse of 1,000l. The latter he devoted to founding a scholarship in Sydney University. In 1857 Thomson brought forward in the legislative council a motion for the federation of Australia, which may give him a title to be considered the father of modern ideas on this subject (Official History of New South Wales, p. 280).

In 1861 he resigned his seat in council, with several colleagues, in order to checkmate the effort of the Cowper ministry to pack the council with their own followers, but he afterwards rejoined it. In his later years he chiefly devoted his attention to educational questions; he was vice-chancellor of Sydney University from 1862 to 1865, and was elected chancellor annually from 1866 to 1878.

He died at Sydney on 16 July 1879. He had been made C.B. in 1856, and K.C.M.G. in 1874. Thomson was president of the Australian jockey club and of the Sydney Infirmary. A portrait of him by Capalti hangs in the hall of Sydney University, and a bust by Fantacchioti is in the library.

Thomson married, in 1833, Anna Maria, second daughter of Sir Richard Bourke, and left two sons and five daughters.

[Mennell's Dict. of Australasian Biography; Sydney Morning Herald, 17 July 1879; Rusden's Hist. of Australia.]

C. A. H.