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Thomas Joseph (Tommy) Ryan (1852–?)

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Thomas Joseph ('Tommy') Ryan (1852-?) shearer, gaoled trade unionist, politician

Birth: 1852 at sea off Mauritius. Religion: Catholic.  

  • Arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1852. Educated at Christian Brothers colleges in Fremantle and Perth. In 1871 was a pearl fisherman.
  • 1876 arrived in Cooktown, Queensland. Was a digger, shearer, general bush worker in central, northern & south western Queensland. Member and chair of the Barcaldine Strike Committee in 1891. Was arrested with other Committee members in March 1891, but acquitted of conspiracy charge. Was editor of the Strike Bulletin.
  • Secretary, Queensland Labourers' Union & Central District Council, Australian Labour Federation 1891-92. Labor Convention delegate 1892 and member Labor Central Political Executive 1892-94. Vice-chair, New Australia Settlement Association but did not go to Paraguay.
  • Elected Labor Member of the Legislative Assembly for Barcoo in March 1892, defeating Pastoral Employers' Association candidate. Referred to fellow hon. members as 'swindlers'. Reported to be excessively fond of alcohol. That may have been true, but as Denis Murphy indicated, he was the first notable victim of power-broker Mat Reid. In May 1893 Ryan retired from parliament and was replaced by George Kerr, later to become Labor party leader.
  • His fellow striker Julian Stuart described him as “Tommy the Rambler” and “envied his ecclesiastical education … he could curse . . . in seven different languages”.
  • After leaving parliament Ryan worked as an itinerant pastoral worker. In 1901 he was shearing again in the Longreach district.
  • About 1905 he was working at Oxford Downs with the young Aubrey Abbott, who later recalled his encounter with “the tough old strike-leader” and Ryan’s reported comments on his time in parliament: “The friends were too warm, the whisky too strong, and the cushions too soft for Tommy Ryan. His place is out among the shearers on the billabongs”.
  • A paragraph in the Brisbane Worker in May 1917 reported: ‘we believe [he] is still battling around the West”.

D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics: State Labor Parties in Australia, 1880-1920 (St Lucia, Qld, 1975), pp. 148, 154, 169, 222 & 225; Stuart Svensen,The Shearers' War: the story of the 1891 shearers' strike (Brisbane, 1989; Duncan B. Waterson, Biographical Register of the Queensland Parliament, (Revised edition, Sydney, 2001); Worker (Brisbane), 14 September 1901, p.11, 3 May 1917, p.10. 

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'Ryan, Thomas Joseph (Tommy) (1852–?)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

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