T J Ryan KC LLB BA was a member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly for eleven years and as premier of Queensland for four years during the second half of The Great War. He resigned to enter federal politics, sitting in the House of Representatives for the federal Labor Party from 1919 until his premature death less than two years later. He was appointed King's Counsel in 1920.
Thomas Joseph Ryan, known mostly as 'Tom' or 'T J', was born on 1st July 1876 at Belfast (Port Fairy), Victoria, Australia. He was the third and youngest son of Timothy Ryan, an illiterate Irish labourer who had migrated to Victoria in 1860 and become a small farmer, and Jean Cullen, also an Irish emigrant. He won a scholarship to St Francis Xavier College, Kew before transferring to South Melbourne College. He then studied arts and law at the University of Melbourne, graduating BA and LLB. For several years Ryan worked as a schoolteacher at various private schools around Australia.
Ryan was appointed an assistant classical master at the University High School, Melbourne, and subsequently held teaching positions at the Launceston Church Grammar School, the Maryborough Grammar School, and the Rockhampton Grammar School. He was admitted to the Queensland bar in December 1901. He practised as a solicitor at Rockhampton and subsequently as a barrister at Brisbane. In 1920, he was appointed King's Counsel (KC).
|T J Ryan in 1916|
In October 1909 Ryan was elected as Labor member for Barcoo in the Queensland Legislative Assembly, retaining the seat for ten years. After the 1912 election he was elected leader of the Labor Party. He led the party to victory at the 1915 state election, the first time it had secured majority government in Queensland. Major reform of Labor laws and agricultural policy were part of the Ryan legacy. Such was his standing amongst his Labor peers and the community that Labor remained in power – other than for a four-year 'hiccup' – for the next 42 years.
Such was his standing within the Labor Party that 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 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.
|T J Ryan in 1920|
His health weakened by exposure to the influenza epidemic whilst in Europe in 1919, Ryan passed away of pneumonia on 1st August 1921 in Glenco Hospital, Barcaldine, Queensland whilst campaigning. He was just 45 years of age. His body travelled by train to Brisbane, past crowds gathered at each station. Archbishops Duhig and Mannix presided over his funeral in St Stephen's Cathedral and at his burial in Brisbane General Cemetery, Toowong. He was survived by Lily, and a son and a daughter.
The early death of such a capable leader was a great blow to the labour movement. He was described as urbane, amiable and approachable; his personality had allowed him to converse with confidence and trust with people of all ranks. At the same time he could hit hard with sarcasm when challenged by foes; yet remained friendly with numerous fellow parliamentarians, including some of his firmest conservative opponents.
The Federal electoral division of Ryan is named after him.
The T J Ryan Foundation, founded in 2014, is a left-leaning 'think tank' specifically focussing on Queensland public policy.
The three-metre Thomas Joseph Ryan Statue stands in Queen's Park, outside the old executive building, Brisbane.
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