A century-old political controversy

Guest blogger: Trisha Fielding

I recently spent a two week period as a researcher in residence looking at the John Oxley Library collections at State Library of Queensland.  During my time there, I focused on Townsville and its history and found a fascinating album containing telegrams, Christmas cards and postcards that belonged to a former Townsville Mayor, John Henry Tyack.  A cursory glance suggested a simple album with congratulatory telegrams and Christmas cards, but further research revealed that Tyack’s appointment as Mayor of Townsville in 1912 caused a storm of controversy in Townsville.

John Henry Tyack was born in Cornwall in 1860 and arrived in Australia in 1881.  He went to work for Samuel Allen & Sons in Charters Towers and in 1899 he took over the license of the Queen’s Hotel in Townsville.  Tyack served for many years as an alderman of the Townsville City Council and was elected four times for the East Ward unopposed.  But in 1912, Tyack took up an appointment as Mayor of the city, despite having declined nomination on several previous occasions.  Tyack’s appointment was controversial because he was appointed by the Governor in Council, and was not the majority choice of the Townsville council.

M 884 J H Tyack Papers - Mayor of Townsville - contains telegrams, greeting cards. State Library of Queensland.

At that time the election of Mayor could only take place at the first meeting of the council held after the conclusion of the annual election of members, or at an adjournment of that first meeting.  The local election had taken place in early February and on 6th February the council met to appoint a mayor, but no decision was made.  The meeting was adjourned until 13th February and it was at this adjourned meeting that proceedings began to deteriorate.

Perhaps anticipating trouble, the Town Clerk had requested two police constables be stationed at the entrance to the town hall, and two inside the building.  Several aldermen objected to the police presence, claiming that the Town Clerk had no authority to request police attendance at a council meeting.  After arguing about the matter for 45 minutes, five aldermen left the table and the meeting broke up without reaching a resolution.

The members of the local council had lost their opportunity to appoint a mayor and the most they could now do was forward a request to the Governor in Council advising of their majority choice for Mayor of Townsville.  After another stormy meeting on 17th February, Alderman Smallwood was recommended as the nominee of the aldermen present and the Town Clerk was instructed to notify the Governor in Council.

What happened next stunned many within the Townsville Council.  Alderman Tyack and not Alderman Smallwood, was appointed Mayor by the Governor in Council.  At a special meeting of council on 7th March, where Tyack attempted to take up his new position, several aldermen refused to recognise him as Mayor.  Alderman Anthony Ogden appears to have been the most vocal in his opposition to Tyack’s appointment.  He argued that a letter from the Under Secretary was insufficient proof and until he had actually seen the Governor’s signature, then it was not official.  Odgen said, ‘We want the Gazette before we acknowledge the appointment.’  Odgen accused Tyack of acting improperly, saying ‘It was only by log-rolling and pulling the strings that Alderman Tyack was appointed in any case.  He was the nominee of a minority.’

M 884 J H Tyack Papers - Mayor of Townsville - contains telegrams, greeting cards. State Library of Queensland

The meeting was adjourned until the following evening, where the disagreement continued.  The meeting began with Alderman Austin arguing: ‘I’ll move an amendment.  Seeing that Alderman J.H. Tyack was not nominated by a majority of Alderman of the Council for the position of Mayor, this meeting does not regard him as a fit and proper person to the hold the position, and hereby calls upon him to resign forthwith.’  Tyack’s response to this was to reply: ‘No hope.’

Within this context, the telegrams contained in the Tyack album begin to come alive with much more meaning than when first viewed.  For example, one telegram reads: ‘Accept my congratulations old man at your appointment and downing the Myalls’.  The term ‘Myall’ is used in this context to mean ‘wild and uncivilised’ and would appear to refer to the Aldermen of the Council who were arguing over the leadership.  Another telegram reads: ‘Heartiest congratulations on your noble fight for an absent friend The Eagle of Victory has perched on your standard.’  Another from a Cairns businessman reads: ‘Dear Sir, Please accept congratulations on being appointed Mayor of Townsville. Make the Aldermen do as you wish.’

M 884 J H Tyack Papers - Mayor of Townsville - contains telegrams, greeting cards. State Library of Queensland

However unpopular Tyack’s appointment may have been to some of his fellow aldermen, there is no doubt he had many allies in high office that supported his appointment as Mayor, with many of the telegrams coming from government officials in Brisbane.  One telegram seems to sum up the general sentiment: ‘Congratulations on your brilliant municipal victory. All northern friends here jubilant.’

Former Queen’s Hotel, Townsville, 2010, photo taken by Trisha Fielding

Tyack was also well respected by the local community in general.  In addition to his duties on the Townsville Council, Tyack was also the licensee of the Queen’s hotel on The Strand, from 1899.  The Queen’s hotel was widely acknowledged as one of the grandest hotels in north Queensland and Tyack, along with his wife Jessie, played host to many high profile visitors including Governor and Lady Chermside in 1903 and Dame Nellie Melba in 1909.  Tyack gradually replaced the original two-storeyed timber hotel in stages with the magnificent, red brick federation-style building that remains today, although he did not live to see its full completion.

Bandstand, Anzac Memorial Park, Townsville. Photo taken by Trisha Fielding.

Tyack was instrumental in beautifying the area of The Strand in front of the Queen’s Hotel, raising money through public subscription to build a bandstand in what is now Anzac Memorial Park.  The bandstand was designed by Sydney architect A.B. Polin, who had earlier designed the new Queen's Hotel for Tyack whilst residing in Townsville.

Alderman Tyack died, aged 53, on 28th July 1913, just months before the bandstand was completed.  The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that Tyack’s funeral was one of the largest ever seen in the city and was testament to the high regard in which he was held by the community.  The cortege was headed by a massed band and all businesses along the main street were closed as the funeral passed.  Flags were flown at half-mast. The wreaths sent by friends of the deceased were so numerous that a special carriage had to be utilised to carry those that could not be placed upon the hearse.

In late September that same year, the bandstand was officially opened by the Mayor, Alderman R.W. McLelland, and dedicated to the memory of the late Alderman J.H. Tyack.  This ceremony was attended by close to 1,000 people.

The remaining contents of the Tyack album will be the subject of a future blog entry.

Trisha Fielding - Historian, Townsville Library Service

Trisha Fielding is an historian and author of the blogs North Queensland History and Women of the North; and in 2015 was a joint-winner of the John Oxley Library Award.

Other Blogs by Trisha Fielding


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Well done Trisha, I hope to see many more interesting and informative blogs on the history of my hometown. It was a good read and I will be looking for more to follow and may I say it is pleasing to see northern content on our State Library website. Your article was well researched and would be a mine of information for family history researchers.Keep up the good work.