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The Hon. William Thornton, M.L.C., (1817 - 1884)

Obituary, The Brisbane Courier (Qld.:1864-1933), Monday 30 June 1884, Page 5

William Thornton's Residence 1874 The death of the Hon. William Thornton, M.L.C., and formerly Collector of Customs at Brisbane, was announced in Saturday morning's paper. The hon. gentleman had been ill for several weeks, and has been for a year or two past a martyr to rheumatic gout. His death, however, is believed to have been immediately caused by some obscure, brain disease, and he had been more or less insensible for several days before he peacefully died very early on Saturday morning, at his residence, Kangaroo Point.

Mr. Thornton was born on the 15th June, 1817, the third son of Mr. Perrott Mee Thornton, of Grenville, County, Cavan, Ireland. He was educated at Dungannon School and Trinity College, Dublin. Having a boyish passion for the sea, he only remained for a short period at college. To the great disappointment of his father, who wished him to study for the bar, he entered the East India Company's Mercantile Marine.

Within a short time of his entering the service, however, the company's charter expired, and Mr. Thornton made a voyage to Sydney and back in a merchantman. By this time, apparently he had overcome his desire for a sailor's life, and after a short stay at his home in Ireland, he came out again to Sydney, where he obtained an appointment in the Government service as a clerk in the Survey Office. The restraints and confinement of such a life offered few attractions to such a man, and before long he resigned in order to join his cousin, Mr. James Kinchela, a son of Mr. Justice Kinchela, who was taking stock to South Australia. He thus became one of the first overlanders, and that at a time when the journey was attended by no small amount of difficulty and even danger.

The country through which he had to pass was almost unknown, and the natives were both numerous and fierce. The journey lasted from August to November in 1840, and was marked by several smart brushes with the blacks. On his return to New South Wales, Mr. Thornton engaged in squatting pursuits in the Wellington district. In 1842 he married Ellen, widow of Lieutenant Buttenshaw, R. N., of Molong, in the same district. Shortly after this Mr. Thornton took charge of a farm near Liverpool. Glenfield, where he remained for about three years. In 1845 he again entered the Government service, and was almost at once despatched to Brisbane as second officer of the Customs. In the year 1853 he paid a visit to his family in Ireland, having in the meantime become the eldest surviving son.

Two years later he returned to the colony, and upon his immediate superior, Mr. Duncan, being made Collector of Customs at Sydney, he was promoted to the sub collectorship of Moreton Bay. As is known to all old residents he was, at the date of Separation appointed Collector of Customs for Queensland, a post which he held with credit to himself and general satisfaction to the public until September, 1882, when he resigned. During the greater part of this time he was also water police magistrate.

Mr. Thornton also held a seat in the Legislative Council for thirteen years, being summoned to that post in September, 1866, and resigning in the same month of 1879, in consequence of a resolution of Parliament against any officer of the Government holding a seat in either House. On resigning the collectorship, however, he was again offered a seat in the Council, which he accepted and retained till the date of his death.

Mr. Thornton was recommended to the Legislative Council by the Macalister Government because of his special knowledge of Customs business and general finance. For years he was very useful in the House, and the country is indebted to him for several practical measures connected with Customs and shipping. He was also very useful to the several Treasurers of the day in their efforts at tariff revision. Mr. Thornton was local director of the A.J.S. Bank, and a director of the Permanent Investment and Building Society.

Upon resigning his position as Collector of Customs in 1882, Mr. Thornton was presented by the officers of his department with a massive and valuable silver salver, and an address expressive of their regret at his retirement, and their warm appreciation of his kind and just rule during the long period he had been at the head of the Custom-house.

The funeral of the deceased gentleman took place yesterday afternoon. It was, as might have been expected, very largely attended. Among those who followed the corpse to its last resting place in the South Brisbane cemetery were Sir Arthur Palmer, President of the Legislative Council; Hon. S. W. Griffith, Premier, the Hon. R. B. Sheridan, the Mayor of Brisbane (Mr. J. McMaster) ; Mr. H. King, Collector of Customs, and most of the employees of the Customs Department; and the principal officers of the civil service. The principal mourners were the brother of the deceased and Mr. W. H. Day.

The deceased leaves a widow and a stepson and daughter, the former being Mr. Buttenshaw, police-magistrate at Maryborough, and the latter the wife of Mr. W. H. Day, acting police-magistrate, Brisbane.


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