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Finucane, William Eugene (1844–1927)

The death has occurred in Melbourne of Mr. William Eugene Finucane, one of Queensland's oldest pioneers, at the age of 83 years. The son of a distinguished British officer (Colonel George Thurles Finucane), he was born in Corfu Garrison during the British occupation, and educated at Lord Gilfoyle's College at Corfu. He imbibed a perfect knowledge of English, Greek, and Italian from his cradle, and also spoke French and Spanish well. He was an artist, a sculptor, and a journalist, and very musical, and in his boyhood travelled in Italy, Greece, Turkey, England, France, Spain, and Portugal. He was in the East during the Crimean War, and had a vivid recollection of the amount of mortality from cholera, which raged throughout the Levant and in the Crimean during the war.

In 1865, at the invitation of Sir George Bowen, the first Governor of Queensland, Mr. Finucane came to Brisbane, where he entered the Government service. He first lived at Ipswich, and, during 1866, Messrs. Thistlethwayte, Atkinson, Burkitt, and others, established and conducted the Ipswich Punch, the first publication of its kind in the colony. Being in the Lands Department, he was despatched to Burketown and Normanton for the purpose of opening up the surrounding region, and generally starting that part of the country in business. Mr. Finucane and the party forming the settlement being the first white men to tread that part of the colony. As Government Land Commissioner, he sold the first allotment in the newly-laid-out township of Normanton. He was afterwards transferred to the head office of the Lands Department, at Brisbane, and was employed there during the whole of the exciting times of "free selection," when, under the Acts of 1868 and 1874, the lands of the colony were, for the first time, thrown open to the public.

On the retirement of the late Mr. Barron from the chief clerkship of the Police Department, Mr. Finucane was selected by the then Colonial Secretary (Sir Arthur Palmer), on account of his knowledge of organisation and his military training, as being suitable to fill the vacancy. Mr. Finucane remained in the Police Department for 16 years, working hard, notably when first taking charge, when many reforms had to be made, and during the period of the shearers' strike, in 1891 and 1892.

On the Queensland Government deciding to proceed with immigration, and the development of the agricultural resources of the colony, Mr. Finucane, owing to certain special qualifications which he possessed—notably a knowledge of some of the language of the Mediterranean—was selected by the Nelson Government to proceed to the South of Europe as special commercial agent for Queensland. He succeeded in establishing trade between Italy, Sicily, Greece, Asia Minor, and Queensland, and the valuable trade relations that exist to-day between Queensland, and indeed other parts of Australia, and Southern Europe, are due to his untiring and conscientious work for the country of his adoption. At Cairo he had the help of the late Lord Cromer, whom he knew well, when the "uncrowned King of Egypt" was a lieutenant in the artillery at Corfu. In Sicily he had the assistance of the Duke of Bronte, father of the Hon. Victor Hood, who at that time lived at Cairns. Many valuable plants, seeds of fruit, and vegetables new to Australia were introduced by him, notably the fertilising fig of Asia Minor, cuttings of which he obtained with great difficulty, and sent out to Queensland. This is the so-called Capri, or wild fig, which produces the insect known as blastophaga psenes, or fig wasp. Mr. Finucane, who took a great interest in horticulture, always contended that unless this fig was introduced into Queensland, as it had been into America, a fig could not be grown that would dry and pack successfully for markets overseas. A market was established in Italy and Greece for Queensland frozen meat, sugar, and other products.

Mr. Finucane also bought for the Brisbane Art Gallery fine, replicas of some of the old masters in various Italian galleries—Giovanni, Bellini. Titian, Tintoretto, Raphael, Palma Vecchio, and Carpaccio. Mr Finucane possessed probably the finest collection of native weapons and implement in Australia, and divided his valuable collection into two parts. One he presented to the Museum of the College of Rome, and the other to the Greek Government, for the Anthropological Museum at Athens. The collection contained waddies, boomerangs, nulla-nullas, woomeras, pipes, spears, skulls of blacks, and the disappearing pituli, the native tobacco. In recognition of his valuable commercial relation he established between Italy and Australia, and also the help he rendered to Italians in the early days of Queensland, before a Consulate was established, King Humbert of Italy conferred upon him the decoration of the Order of St. Maurizio e St. Lazzaro. The olive groves at St. Helena were planted and cultivated under Mr. Finucane's directions, also the beautiful Moreton Bay fig trees at Cleveland. The first olive press in Queensland was made to his design, and the olives pressed under his direction. He also was most helpful in establishing the wine industry of Queensland, as he knew a great deal about vine culture. In the early days he very successfully induced Italian opera companies to visit Australia.

Mr. Finucane was a great imperialist, and was also a prominent Mason of the Prince of Wales Lodge. He married the third daughter of the late Mr. William Sheehan, of Brisbane, and had six children. His wife and four children survive him. At his house in Cleveland, on the shores of Moreton Bay, he kept open house, and was said to have entertained during his 36 years of public service, "the world and his wife."

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'Finucane, William Eugene (1844–1927)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/finucane-william-eugene-14328/text25397, accessed 25 November 2017.

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