T. J. Ryan

Thomas Joseph Ryan (1 July 18761 August 1921) was Premier of Queensland, Australia from May 1915 until October 1919 when he resigned to enter Federal politics.

Ryan was primarily known as T. J. Ryan.

Early life

Ryan was born at Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia, and was educated at South Melbourne College, Xavier College, Kew, and the University of Melbourne, where he graduated B.A. and LL.B. He was appointed an assistant classical master at the University High School, Melbourne, and subsequently held teaching positions at the Church of England Grammar School, Launceston, at the Maryborough Grammar School, and the Rockhampton Grammar School, where he became second master. He resigned this position on being admitted to the Queensland bar in December 1901. He practised as a solicitor at Rockhampton and subsequently as a barrister at Brisbane. While at Rockhampton in 1900 he joined the Australian Natives Association and became its local president.

Queensland politician

He was afterwards a candidate for the federal seat of Capricornia and the state seat of Rockhampton North, but was defeated on both occasions. In October 1909 he was elected as Labor member for Barcoo in the Queensland Legislative Assembly, retained the seat for 10 years, and after the 1912 election was elected leader of the Labour party on the resignation of David Bowman.

The Ryan government was the first majority Australian Labor Party government of Queensland. Some of the eight members of his Cabinet had connections with the early ALP of the 1880s and the Shearer's Strike. His government would provide the example which would see Labor in power in Queensland almost continuously until 1957. Major reform of Labor laws and agricultural policy were part of the Ryan legacy. At the election in May 1915, Labour came in with a large majority and Ryan became premier, chief secretary, and attorney-general, and an era of industrial legislation and state enterprise began. Among the measures passed were the industrial arbitration act, labour exchanges act, workers' compensation act, inspection of machinery and scaffolding act, factories and shops amendment act, and workers' compensation amendment act. This was one side of the Ryan government's activities but where it particularly broke fresh ground was the entrance of the state into trading activities. Stations were purchased and run as going concerns, and many retail butchers' shops were opened in Brisbane and other parts of Queensland. Railway refreshment rooms were taken over, state hotels were built and purchased, a produce agency was established, coal mines were acquired, iron and steel works were opened, and a state insurance department was established. Most of these activities were, however, disposed of and reverted to private hands within a few years. Ryan showed good generalship at the 1918 election and his party was again returned with a large majority.

Thomas Ryan, as the only Labor party leader in Government anywhere in Australia, was instrumental in leading the fight against conscription in the referendum launched by Billy Hughes.

Federal politician

Ryan was asked by a resolution of a special federal conference to enter federal politics, the only occasion that such a motion has been passed. He was Campaign Director for the Labor Party during the 1919 Federal election and was elected to the House of Representatives in the Federal Parliament as the Member for West Sydney. He had been widely touted as a likely Labor leader before his premature death.

The socialistic legislation of his party in Queensland caused some prejudice against Ryan when he entered federal politics, but he soon overcame this by the force of his intellectual qualities and his personal honesty and charm. In July 1921 he went to Queensland, against his doctor's advice, to help the Labour candidate at the Marawa by-election, contracted pneumonia, and died on 1 August 1921 in Glenco Hospital, Barcaldine. He had just completed his forty-fifth year.

Summary and legacy

Ryan was a big man physically and had remarkable intellectual power. He was well-educated, a fluent and able speaker, a successful lawyer, and a keen and able politician whose personal and political life was beyond reproach. He was a great leader of his party, a strenuous fighter, always in command of his temper, and a generous opponent. His too early death was a tragedy, a cause of real grief to friends and opponents alike.

He married in 1910, Miss L. V. Cook, who proved a great helpmate to him. She survived him with a son and a daughter, and in 1944 was the Queensland government representative at Melbourne. The wording on the metal plaque on the pedestal on which Thomas Ryan's statue stands in Brisbane, describes him as: Scholar - Jurist - Statesman.

The Federal electoral division of Ryan is named after him.


  • Queensland Political Portraits 1859-1952, University of Queensland Press, 1978
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  • Thomas Joseph Ryan (1876-1921) — Australian Dictionary of Biography

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