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   Thomas Charles Beirne Aged 24
Thomas Charles Beirne Aged 24
 
Thomas Charles Beirne 1942
Thomas Charles Beirne 1942
 
Thomas Charles Beirne 1949
Thomas Charles Beirne 1860 - 1949
Thomas Charles Beirne 1860-1949    
Thomas Charles Beirne
 

One of the first millionaires in Australian history and forefather of the Brisbane business community, Thomas Charles Beirne was born on 9 July 1860 at Ballymacurly, Roscommon, Ireland. The son of a farmer, he received very little in the way of formal education before being apprenticed as a draper to his cousin Dominick Owens. In March 1881 he joined M. D. Piggott who convinced the young T.C. Beirne to migrate to Australia.

After migrating aboard the Lusitania, Beirne arrived in Melbourne in February 1884 before heading to Brisbane to enter into a partnership with Piggott in opening a drapery store in Stanley Street. After marrying Ann Kavanagh in April 1887, Beirne opened his own store in Fortitude Valley in 1891. The phenomenal success of his store resulted in expansion into other retail endeavors and an extensive portfolio of shares and bonds.

By the turn of the century, T. C. Beirne had become one of the most influential men in Queensland and helped to transform South Brisbane into a retail centre. His financial success and corporate acumen meant that he was also a welcome addition to many of Queensland's company boards of the time, including the Brisbane Gas Company, the Queensland Board of the AMP, the Brisbane Tramway Co, Queensland Trustees, the Atlas Assurance Co and the British Australian Cotton Association. He was a member of the Legislative Council (MLC) from 1905 until its abolition in 1922[1].

Beirne enjoyed the confidence of many in the business community and he was also heavily supportive of the educational development of the State, giving generously to schools of the Catholic Church and the fledgling University of Queensland. He was elected to the University Council in 1927 and was Warden from 1928 to 1941. The name T.C. Beirne was to become synonymous with the University's law school when, in 1935, he donated £20,000 to establish a fully operational faculty of law, although the name `T.C. Beirne School of Law' was not popularized until the name was promoted by Professor Geoffrey De Q Walker in the late 1980s. The amount bequeathed was double that originally intended after Beirne was persuaded to increase the bequest by Chief Justice of Queensland, Sir James Blair, and the Garrick Professor of Law, Francis Cumbrae-Stewart. The donation enabled rectification of the lack of effective tertiary legal education in the state of Queensland.

During his time as Warden, Beirne continued to be closely involved with the development of the law school and commissioned various works to be written by the academic staff of the law school. After resigning from the University Council in 1941, Beirne retained an active interest in the school until his death on 21 April 1949 . At his death, T.C. Beirne's business acumen was demonstrated by his leaving an estate that was sworn for probate at £1 251 574 in Queensland alone. There were also assets outside the State.

Author: Ryan Gawrych. Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 7.

Image Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland


[1] Further details are contained in Eileen Macrossan Life Story of Thomas Charles Beirne, 1947, a copy of which is held in the UQ Fryer Library.
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