GLASGOW, Sir Thomas William (1876–1955)
Senator for Queensland, 1920–32 (Nationalist Party; United Australia Party)

Thomas William (Bill) Glasgow was born on 6 June 1876, at ‘Upton Bank’, Tiaro, on the Mary River, inland from Maryborough in Queensland. His father, Samuel, had come from Armagh, in Northern Ireland to the four-year-old colony in 1863. Samuel had married in 1864, but his first wife died in 1867, leaving him to bring up an infant daughter, Elizabeth. Gold was discovered at what became Gympie in 1867, with the town springing up overnight. Samuel bought a wheelbarrow, walked to Gympie and made some money. In 1868 he married Mary Margaret Trotter Anderson, an English immigrant with Scottish antecedents. Thomas William, who later referred to himself as an ‘improved Scot’, was the fourth child of the eight sons and three daughters of Samuel and Mary. For a time Samuel was overseer of the ‘Antigua’ sugar plantation at Tiaro but Mary was afraid of the Kanaka labourers when the men were away, and in 1882 the family moved to Gympie where Samuel established a store on top of Red Hill, safe from the perennial flooding of the Mary River. The growing family lived in an adjoining house under which explosives were stored, and in which the three youngest daughters would live for the rest of their lives.

Thomas William, known in the family as Will, grew up surrounded by dutiful sisters and boisterous brothers. He was educated at the One-Mile State School in Gympie and then as a boarder at Maryborough Grammar School. His family and his teachers instilled in him a code of service and duty and a characteristic Protestant work ethic. (In later years he was a strong Presbyterian; he was also a long-standing Freemason.) He took a keen interest in the school cadet corps. After leaving school at the end of 1892, he worked for a year in the office of G. S. Lewis, mining secretary, before joining the staff of the Queensland National Bank in Gympie. He also joined the Wide Bay Mounted Infantry and in 1897 went as a trooper with the Queensland contingent to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London. At the end of 1899, when the war in South Africa broke out, he and his brother Alexander (Alex) left with the first Queensland contingent. As a lieutenant Will served for a year, was involved in a number of significant engagements, was mentioned in despatches and awarded the DSO.

After the war Will spent a year with the Queensland National Bank in Charters Towers before he and Alex took over the family store in 1902. On 21 April 1904 Will married Annie Isabel (Belle) Stumm, daughter of German-born Jacob Stumm, owner of the Gympie Times, a former MLA for Gympie (1896-99) and future MHR for Lilley (1913-17). Will and Belle had two daughters, Joan and Beth. The brothers sold the store in 1913 and Will, with his brother Harry, bought ‘Sanders’, a cattle station, near Dingo on the Rockhampton railway line.[1]

Will Glasgow had remained active in the militia, serving with the 13th Light Horse, and immediately war broke out in 1914 he joined the AIF with the rank of major and an appointment as second‑in‑command of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment. Distinguishing himself at Gallipoli, he was given command of the 1st Light Horse Regiment in August 1915, and the 2nd Light Horse Regiment in September. When the AIF was reorganised in Egypt early in 1916, Glasgow gained the command of the 13th Australian Infantry Brigade. He led the brigade throughout most of its service in France, and was instrumental in the success of the counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, an action described by one British commander who witnessed it as ‘the greatest individual feat of the war’. On 30 June 1918 Glasgow was appointed to command the 1st Australian Division, one of only a handful of Australians to command a division in World War I. Regarded by superiors and subordinates alike as outstanding, he ‘always had the respect and regard of his troops’. Glasgow was mentioned in despatches eight times, made CMG (1916) and CB (1918), and awarded the French Legion d’Honneur Croix d’Officer and the Croix de Guèrre avec Palme in 1919. (Three of Glasgow’s brothers also served in the AIF. Alex was wounded on Gallipoli, Jim lost a leg in France and died in 1923, and Robert was a dashing officer who won a DSO and an MC.)[2]

He returned to Australia in mid-1919. When the train carrying Glasgow and his wife arrived at Toowoomba railway station, the crowd was so great that the two little daughters waiting on the platform for their famous father had to be passed into the carriage through the window. Now a popular war hero, Glasgow was soon selected by the Nationalist Party to run for the Senate. Appointed KCB in June, in December he was elected a senator for Queensland. (He was re-elected in 1925.) The Glasgow family moved to Melbourne and Sir William was sworn in the Senate on 1 July 1920. He adopted a civilian ‘uniform’ of a three‑piece blue serge suit, homburg hat and walking stick.

Glasgow was not a natural orator and to the end of his life remained diffident about public speaking. His parliamentary speeches reveal a serious and courteous man who, when called on, acquitted himself well, speaking with force, intelligence and perception. Defence was a major interest. He spoke often on behalf of returned soldiers. While he dissented from the majority report of the Select Committee on the Claims of Captain J. Strasburg for a War Gratuity on the grounds that Strasburg was not eligible under the relevant legislation, he nevertheless stated that Strasburg had a moral right to a gratuity. The following year Glasgow wrote the majority report of the Select Committee on the Discharge of Warrant Officer J. R. Allen from the Australian Military Forces. The report upheld Allen’s discharge and brought Glasgow into direct conflict with the committee’s chairman, former AIF colleague and fellow commander at Villers-Bretonneux, Senator H. E. (‘Pompey’) Elliott.[3]

He believed in being prepared for war: ‘No one can foresee war. It comes down like a thief in the night’. When Labor’s Senator Needham suggested it was ‘better to build friendships than battleships’, Glasgow responded: ‘Yes; but when one’s friends are armed to the teeth, one may very well say to them, “We will lay down our arms, if you will do so first”’. He believed that those who enjoyed the privileges of citizenship should accept responsibility for the defence of their country. He was a consistent advocate of military training. When Senator Daly asserted: ‘The next war will be one in which science will play a most important part, and man and gun power will be of little value’, Glasgow disagreed—manpower, he considered, would remain the deciding factor. He had firm views on the management of the armed forces, and regarded it a commander’s ‘duty to consider the physical and mental well-being of the men’. He believed inefficient officers should be dispensed with. Commenting on the proposed Australian War Memorial in Canberra, he said: ‘This memorial, containing [the names of the fallen] and the relics of their great achievements, will be a constant reminder of our responsibility to their memory’. Above all, he believed in Australia and the Australian character. He held that if employers spared no effort in gaining the respect and goodwill of their employees, and these in turn rendered ‘good and loyal service’, Australia would never look back.[4]

In 1923 Glasgow played a leading role in an attempt to heal the rift between the Nationalist Party and the Country Party in Queensland, and such was his stature that he was offered the leadership of the newly formed United Party in Queensland, an offer he declined.[5] Around the same time, he was also considered for a federal portfolio, but was not offered one until June 1926 when he became Minister for Home and Territories in the Bruce–Page Government. It was a popular appointment. The Brisbane Courier believed Glasgow was ‘just the sort of man to cut the bonds of red tape’ and ‘infuse a new spirit of alertness and efficiency into the rather immobile ranks of his department’.[6]

However, his brief tenure as Minister for Home and Territories was a difficult one, coming as it did in the period immediately prior to the removal of Parliament to Canberra. His oversight of the Federal Capital Commission was subject to criticism, which he met in his usual implacable style, and he was caught up in the controversy surrounding the dismissal of Colonel E. T. Leane as Administrator of Norfolk Island. His sternest critic was, once more, Pompey Elliott, who argued in August 1926 that Glasgow had ‘lost his grip of the department’.[7]

In March 1927 Glasgow replaced Sir Neville Howse as Minister for Defence (a portfolio Glasgow had represented in the Senate since his initial appointment to the ministry). His task in carrying out a predetermined policy largely governed by financial stringency was not an easy one, but, according to the 1929 annual report of the Department of Defence, the two previous years had seen ‘a resuscitation of the spirit and traditions of the Army’, which may well have been due to Glasgow’s undoubted capacity to inspire and lead. As Minister for Defence he also held responsibility for the development of civil aviation, and in 1928 had introduced the Defence Equity Bill which included provisions for surveillance of the Australian coast, particularly in the north-west.[8]

During the absence of Senator Pearce in late 1927, Glasgow became Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, presenting legislation and defending government policy. In 1928 he led the Commonwealth delegation to the Empire Parliamentary Association meeting in Canada. With the defeat of the Government in October 1929, Glasgow was appointed Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He played a prominent role in attacking the policies of the Scullin Government, earning himself a reputation as ‘Big Bill’ Glasgow, and chairing the Select Committee on the Central Reserve Bank Bill, which was comprised entirely of Opposition senators.[9]

When the Scullin Government was defeated in December 1931, it was expected that Glasgow would resume responsibility for Defence, but the general swing against the Labor Party was reversed in Queensland and Glasgow was defeated. Despite speculation that he would be appointed Australian High Commissioner in London he returned to Brisbane and in 1936 built a house on a hill overlooking the river in the suburb of Indooroopilly. His pastoral interests were supplemented by work on the boards of various businesses. He was a familiar figure at the head of the march of ex-servicemen on Anzac Day. When World War II broke out in 1939, he volunteered his services to the Government. It was proposed that he become Australia’s first High Commissioner to Canada. He at first hesitated, preferring to go where the action was and conscious of not being a professional diplomat. Nevertheless he accepted, taking up his appointment in March 1940 and remaining in Canada until 1945, when there was some talk of his staying on there as Governor-General.[10]

After the war he returned to the house in Indooroopilly and once again resumed his pastoral and business interests. A dapper figure, he could often be seen strolling down the hill from his home to the local railway station on his way to an office in town. After a life of extraordinary activity and achievement, he died in Brisbane on 4 July 1955, and was accorded a state funeral at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and cremated at Mt Thompson. His wife and two daughters survived him. ‘With the passing this week of Sir William (familiarly “Bill”) Glasgow’, wrote C. E. W. Bean, ‘there goes the last of a magnificent group—the Australian divisional commanders of the 1914–18 war’.

In appearance Glasgow was tall and broad-shouldered with a square-jawed face, intense blue eyes and ‘puckered humorous brows as shaggy as a deerhound’s’. He enjoyed a drink and a joke (he had a fund of stories about W. M. Hughes) but was a man of simple tastes. Throughout his life he visited his sisters in the house above the Mary River, and always regarded Gympie as his home town.[11]

Peter Edgar 

[1] Letter, Glasgow to C. E. W. Bean, 29 May 1920, AWM43, A302, NAA; Table Talk (Melb.), 25 July 1929, p. 13; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 5 July 1955, p. 2; P. L. Murray (comp.), Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1911, pp. 447-51; Distinguished Service Orders, A8, 1902/219/11, NAA; Ralph Harry, ‘Glasgow, Sir Thomas William’, ADB, vol. 9.

[2] Glasgow, T. W.—War Service Record, B2455, NAA; Glasgow file, ADB, ANU; C. E. W. Bean, The Story of ANZAC from 4 May, 1915, to the Evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula, A & R, Sydney, 1940, pp. 624-8, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, A & R, Sydney, 1939, pp. 839-40, The Australian Imperial Force in France During the Main German Offensive, 1918, A & R, Sydney, 1938, pp. 568-78, 638-40; Reveille (Syd.), 1 Aug. 1936, pp. 8-9, 11, 1 Jan. 1937, pp. 6-7, 9; Letters regarding Glasgow, AWM38, 3DRL, 606/276/1, AWM; John Monash, The Australian Victories in France in 1918, Hutchison & Co., London, 1920, pp. 158-9; SMH, 9 July 1955, p. 17; Stand-to (Canb.), July-Aug. 1956, p. 16.

[3] Toowoomba Chronicle, 24 June 1919, p. 4; Brisbane-Courier, 23 June 1919, p. 2, 24 June 1919, p. 6, 10 Oct. 1919, p. 7, 21 Oct. 1919, p. 7, 31 Oct. 1925, p. 9; CPD, 27 July 1923, pp. 1708-10; CPP, Select Committee on the Claims of Captain J. Strasburg for a War Gratuity, report, 1922, Select Committee on the Discharge of Warrant Officer J. R. Allen from the Australian Military Forces, report, 1923.

[4] CPD, 25 June 1930, pp. 3155-7, 11 Aug. 1926, p. 5240, 6 Dec. 1927, p. 2598, 24 Nov. 1920, pp. 6884–5, 21 Nov. 1929, pp. 54-9, 13 Mar. 1930, p. 56, 26 Aug. 1925, pp. 1676-8, 11 June 1925, pp. 54-8.

[5] SMH, 27 Jan. 1923, p. 10, 22 Feb. 1923, p. 9.

[6] SMH, 14 Feb. 1923, p. 13, 27 Mar. 1926, p. 15, 21 June 1926, p. 11; Herald (Melb.), 18 June 1926, p. 1; Brisbane Courier, 19 June 1926, p. 7, 21 June 1926, p. 6; Herald (Melb.), 19 June 1926, p. 8.

[7] CPD, 7 July 1926, pp. 3840-2, 8 July 1926, pp. 3901-3, 21 July 1926, pp. 4363-4, 22 Mar. 1927, pp. 822-3, 12 Aug. 1926, pp. 5323, 5333-45.

[8] CPD, 6 Dec. 1927, pp. 2598-604, 29 Mar. 1928, pp. 4276–7, 4284-6; CPP, Report for the Inspector-General of the Australian Military Forces, 1929.

[9] CPD, 28 Sept. 1927, p. 21, 29 Sept. 1927, p. 70; Herald (Melb.), 3 July 1928, p. 6; SMH, 20 Nov. 1929, p. 17; Herald (Melb.), 2 May 1931, p. 8; CPD, 10 July 1930, pp. 3939-43; CPP, Select Committee on the Central Reserve Bank Bill, report, 1930.

[10] Brisbane-Courier, 24 Dec. 1931, p. 11, 31 Dec. 1931, p. 8, 16 Jan. 1932, p. 11, 1 Jan. 1932, p. 9; Letter, Glasgow to Shedden, 15 Jan. 1940, A5954/69, 45/3, NAA; Herald (Melb.), 23 Dec. 1939, p. 3, 10 Jan. 1940, p. 7; Ralph Harry, ‘Diplomacy of Good Sense: Sir William Glasgow in Canada’, Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Historical Papers, vol. 11, no. 1, 1979-80, pp. 103-18.

[11] Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 5 July 1955, p. 2, 7 July 1955, p. 6; SMH, 9 July 1955, p. 17; Table Talk (Melb.), 25 July 1929, p. 13; Bulletin (Syd.), 18 May 1949, p. 18; T. S. Louch, Personal History of the Great War, part 3, Perth, 1970, pp. 3-4; Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, pp. 839–40.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 344-348.

GLASGOW, Sir Thomas William (1876-1955)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Qld, 1920–32

Minister for Home and Territories, 1926–27

Minister for Defence, 1927–29

Senate Committee Service

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1920–24, 1926

Select Committee on the Claims of Captain J. Strasburg for a War Gratuity, 1921–22

Select Committee on the Discharge of Warrant Officer J. R. Allen from the Australian Military Forces, 1923

Library Committee, 1923–26

Select Committee on the Central Reserve Bank Bill, 1930