The man pictured below was one of Australia's first millionaires. He was also a pre-eminent businessman, and a politician, as well as a benefactor to church and education. He is Thomas Charles Beirne, poorly educated son of Irish farmers, who emigrated to Australia in 1884 to work as a sales assistant in a Melbourne drapery store.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #93804)
Before too long though, Beirne moved to Brisbane to partner fellow Irishman Michael Piggot in a drapery store in South Brisbane, prior to striking out with his own business in Fortitude Valley. His first premises were rented, and the Beirne family lived in upstairs quarters while he was establishing the business. One of his early employees was James McWhirter, who was later to become an equally successful retail rival in the Valley. The success of his store enabled Beirne to buy the original premises from his landlord, and then adjoining properties to enable expansion. Prominent architect Robin Dods was engaged to design a purpose-built premises for the store, which was constructed in 1902. The following picture of the building dates from around 1909.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #APA-004-0001-0009)
The building was expanded a couple of times under Dods's stewardship. TC Beirne's, together with McWhirters (which will be the subject of a later post) and Overells, other well-known Brisbane stores that were also situated in the Valley, ensured that this precinct became one of the city's main shopping areas until the introduction of suburban shopping malls. It has been suggested that sectarian issues played a role in the patronage of the two main stores, with McWhirters being Protestant and TC Beirne's being Catholic. By the time I was old enough to go to these shops as an adult in the sixties there was no evidence of that, at least as far as I was aware. Major retailer David Jones took over the TC Beirne's business in the fifties, and the building now has been refurbished as part of the makeover of the Valley area. This is how the building, now called TCB on Brunswick, looks now.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)
But that's not all there is to the TC Beirne story. He was an acknowledged business leader, being President of the Brisbane Traders' Association; he was on the boards of several major companies including AMP and Queensland Trustees; he was a member of the State's upper house for many years before its abolition in 1922; and he was University Warden for more than a decade. His increasing wealth led to generous donations for the benefit of his fellow Queenslanders - the TC Beirne School of Law came into being after his donation of £20,000 and he gave significantly to the Catholic church, becoming a Papal Knight in 1929. He died in 1949, leaving an estate of £1.25 million in Queensland, as well as further estates elsewhere.
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