CHATAWAY, Thomas Drinkwater (1864–1925)
Senator for Queensland, 1907–13 (Anti-Socialist Party)

Thomas Drinkwater Chataway, journalist, protectionist and tireless spokesman for the Queensland sugar industry, was born in Wartling, Sussex, England on 6 April 1864, the fifth son of the Reverend James Chataway of Rotherwick, Hampshire. Thomas was educated at Charterhouse, Godalming, Surrey. In 1881, he followed his older brother, James, to Australia, initially working on the land on the Liverpool Plains in New South Wales. The next year he moved to Mackay, Queensland, where he worked on sugar plantations and as a sugar-boiler until he joined the staff of the Mackay Mercuryin 1886.

With his brother James (a minister in the Queensland Parliament), he established the Sugar Journal and Tropical Cultivator in 1892, a Mackay publication which lasted some ten years before its closure. From the mid-1890s, Chataway worked for about a decade as an editor and manager of both the Mercury and the Sugar Journal. His brother had purchased the Mackay Mercury in 1886, and in 1905, Thomas amalgamated his Mercury interests with those of Arthur Williams of the Mackay Chronicle, converting the Mercury into a daily newspaper, which was sold in 1911. Thomas Chataway became totally immersed in local community interests, acting as president of the School of Arts on several occasions, as well as being an active member of the Mackay Show Association. In addition, he was a member of the Caledonian Masonic Lodge and a past principal of the Kennedy Royal Arch Chapter. He was also a foundation member of the Foresters Lodge Friendly Society, and in 1906 was chairman of the Fire Board.[1]

Following many years as an alderman, in 1904 Chataway became mayor of Mackay, a position he was to hold until his election to the Senate in 1906 as an Anti-Socialist. While electioneering in 1906, Chataway was an ardent spokesman for the interests of the sugar planters. Advocating protection for the industry, he questioned Asiatic settlement.[2]

Chataway became a member of five Senate committees, including the 1908 joint select committee on parliamentary powers, privileges, or immunities. This committee did not make a final report, as it came to the conclusion that as there was no statutory law authorising the compulsory attendance of witnesses before select committees it was not in a position to make recommendations. As a member of the select committee on the press cable service, Chataway put in a dissenting report, arguing against the recommendation of a cable service subsidy on the grounds that a reduction in the land line charges would be more effective.

Chataway’s ability with words, evident in his journalistic pursuits, was honed for debating purposes, particularly when pronouncing on anti-Labor and anti-socialist policies. He drew attention to disease levels among immigrants to Australia. In December 1912, legislation was passed which required intending migrants to be medically examined at their port of departure. Chataway was assiduous in his parliamentary attendance, and in 1909 did not miss a single day. At one time, he was Government Whip.[3]

Chataway’s main interest as a senator was the Queensland sugar industry and his speeches reflect his long experience of the industry and great knowledge of the problems faced by producers as well as his serious concern about the issue of coloured labour. In 1907, he made an impressive speech in which he argued forcefully for protection for the sugar and other agricultural industries, and against the employment of coloured labour. Protection would lead to ‘finding regular and continuous work for white men in the tropics.’ ‘It is’, he said ‘of no use to encourage settlers to come and take up land in Australia if when they arrive they find that there is no labour to build homes for them and cultivate their soil’. He considered that ‘Spaniards are white, very respectable, and decent’, but suggested Chinese people be regulated ‘out of the country’. In 1910, he asked a question of the Government in relation to a proposal from the Australian Sugar Producers’ Association ‘to absolutely prohibit the production of sugar by coloured men’. In 1911, he successfully moved for a return on occupations and numbers of contract immigrants.[4]

He seems to have had an understanding of the need for government accountability. He thought that if Australia was to govern Papua or the Northern Territory efficiently, there should be more timely annual reports. In 1910, he criticised the estimates process as getting ‘worse and worse year by year’. He requested an explanation of expenses incurred in 1910 relative to the choice of the federal capital site. In the debate on the Bureau of Agriculture Bill 1909, he pointed to the need for coordination with the states, and for tapping into international research. He thought the Public Service Commissioner should be as ‘irremovable’ as a Justice of the High Court. In his parliamentary questions, Chataway drew attention to issues such as increases since Federation in the salaries of Commonwealth public servants, in comparison with public service salary costs under the colonial governments.

While, like so many of the time, his compassion did not extend to all races, nevertheless he seems to have had some care for deserted women and children. Amendments in 1912 to theService and Execution of Process Act 1901 included giving effect to Chataway’s proposals that the Act’s provisions should apply to state law. This made wife desertion an indictable, not a civil offence, allowing for a summons to be served for desertion in any part of the Commonwealth other than that in which the ‘deserter’ lived; for forsaken women, this was doubtless an unforeseen benefit of Federation.[5]

Chataway lost his seat with the other two Queensland conservatives, Sayers and St Ledger in the 1913 election. He never again resided in Queensland, but remained in Melbourne where he continued his journalistic career. For a short period during World War I, he served as secretary to the federal Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Cook, and in 1917 was personal assistant to Senator E. D. Millen. Chataway contributed regular monthly articles to the Australian Sugar Journal. These articles were especially forceful when he considered that Queensland producers were being unfairly treated in the ‘southern’ dailies. He wrote also for overseas sugar industry publications such asthe International Sugar Journal and the Louisiana Planter.

On 8 November 1890, he had married Anna Altereith in Rockhampton by whom he had a daughter and two sons, George and Percy. Chataway died on 5 March 1925 at Balmerino Avenue, Toorak, Melbourne, and was buried in Brighton Cemetery after a Church of England service.[6]


Jennifer Harrison


[1] Australian Sugar Journal, 9 April 1925, pp. 60-61; K. H. Kennedy, ‘Chataway, James Vincent, and Thomas Drinkwater’, ADB, vol. 7; Daily Mercury (Mackay), 7 March 1925, p. 13.

[2] ‘The Jubilee of Mackay: 1862–1912, Fifty Years’, Daily Mercury, Mackay, August 1912, pp. 38, 44; Brisbane Courier, 11 December 1906, p. 5; Argus (Melbourne), 6 March 1925, p. 10.

[3] CPP, Report of the joint select committee on procedure in cases of privilege, 1908; Report of the Senate select committee on the press cable service, 1909; CPD, 26 September 1912, p. 3457, 25 October 1912, p. 4715; Argus (Melbourne), 6 March 1925, p. 10.

[4] CPD, 30 August 1907, p. 2640, 10 July 1907, pp. 263–266, 15 November 1907, pp. 6061–6062, 14 July 1910, p. 383, 14 September 1911, p. 425; R. G. Neale, ‘The New State Movement in Queensland: An Interpretation’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol. 4, no. 15, November 1950, pp. 198–213.

[5] CPD, 25 November 1910, pp. 6820–6823, 5 October 1910, p. 4090, 20 October 1909, pp. 4725–4730, 15 November 1911, pp. 2605–2606, 28 May 1908, p. 11581, 14 September 1911, pp. 451–452, 19 July 1912, p. 1049.

[6] Argus (Melbourne), 6 March 1925, p. 10; Kennedy, ‘Chataway, James Vincent, and Thomas Drinkwater’, ADB; T. D. Chataway, ‘A Problem from Queensland’, Pam., NLA, ‘The Australian Sugar Industry’, International Sugar Journal, March 1921, pp. 140-146; Argus (Melbourne), 6 March 1925, p. 1.


This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 112-117.

CHATAWAY, Thomas Drinkwater (1864–1925)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Qld, 1907–13


Senate Committee Service

Library Committee, 1907–10

Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Powers, Privileges, or Immunities, 1908

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1908–13

Select Committee on the Press Cable Service, 1909

Printing Committee, 1910–13