A few months ago, Elizabeth Cleary of Brisbane emailed State Library to reveal that her great uncle was Thomas Augustine Ryan (1847-1923), the Brisbane land agent and auctioneer who is credited with instigating the national observance of Anzac Day.
On 10 January 1916, a public meeting was convened, chaired by the Queensland Premier T. J. Ryan, and attended by members of the Recruiting Committee, Church leaders and the Governor of Queensland. While much of the agenda pertained to recruitment, discussion also turned to commemoration, as the assembled parties explored ideas for remembering the many fallen Queenslanders of the Gallipoli campaign. As a member of the Recruiting Committee, and father of a son who had served at Gallipoli, Thomas Augustine Ryan put forward a suggestion to the chairman of the State Recruiting Committee, Colonel A.J. Thynne, that the 25th April be allocated as a day of solemn remembrance. This suggestion was approved, and the meeting then elected Anglican priest Canon David John Garland to convene an Anzac Day Commemoration Committee and to devise a structure for the day.
The Commemoration Committee comprised leading establishment figures, including the Premier T.J. Ryan, The Minister for Education, The Lord Mayor of Brisbane, and of course Canon David John Garland, who was appointed Secretary. By April, and largely at the suggestion of Canon Garland, the Committee had determined what form the day would take, and on 25 April 1916, one year after Australians troops splashed ashore at Anzac Cove, 6434 servicemen paraded through the streets of Brisbane before a crowd of 50,000 onlookers.
The intent of the Committee was that the day should be a sombre day of reflection and remembrance of sacrifice, a day for “commemorating the dead rather than praising the living”, with an underlying need to reassure the public that Australian losses had not been in vain, despite the failure of the Gallipoli campaign. The Committee was also careful to divorce the first Anzac Day from the many fundraising, recruitment and other patriotic activities being undertaken across the state.
Thomas Augustine Ryan or “T.A.” as he was familiarly known, died in 1923 aged 76 years, after a long and successful career, and was remembered by family and friends as a man of generous disposition who did much for charity, and had many very close friends. While he took pride in his business achievements and his standing in the community, nothing gave him greater satisfaction than the nationwide adoption of his suggestion for a sincere day of remembrance. His patriotism and admiration for the young men who fell at Gallipoli had prompted his suggestion, and the respect with which he offered it carried through its planning and implementation, and remains in the way we observe Anzac Day today.
Newspapers around the state printed news of Thomas Augustine’s passing in December 1923. The Telegraph described him as a “fine old Queenslander” and the Brisbane Courier noted that he was “one of the most prominent figures in Brisbane commercial circles, and the city’s oldest auctioneer.” These lovely and detailed obituaries are a tribute to a significant Queenslander.
The Distant Lines exhibition is on at State Library until 15 November 2015, and contains objects and documents pertaining to the Queensland origins of Anzac Day. If you visit Level 4 you will see items relating to Canon Garland, the work of the Queensland Recruiting Committee and the Queensland Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, including the minute book of the Commemoration Committee, and the draft schedule for the first Anzac Day event.
Many thanks to Mrs. Elizabeth Cleary for contacting us.
Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland