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John Adamson (1857–1922)

A notable career was closed under tragic circumstances shortly after noon yesterday, when Senator John Adamson was killed by a train at Hendra railway station. As the train which left Pinkenba for the city at 12.15 was drawing into the station at 12.30 Senator Adamson was seen to fall on to the rails, and before the train could be pulled up the wheels had passed over him. When picked up he was found to be dead, having been cut to pieces.

The Secretary for Railways (Mr. O. R. Steer) subsequently made the following statement:—It appears that Mr. Adamson was sitting on a seat at Hendra station with Mr. S. Thompson, of Nudgee-road, Hendra, a few minutes before the train was due. Mr Adamson is said to have informed Mr Thompson that he felt very ill, and he either jumped or fell in front of the engine. The engine driver (Mr. W. Smith) did not actually see Mr. Adamson, but he observed, from intending passengers standing on the platform, that something unusual was occurring and made an emergency application of the Westinghouse brake, stopping the train with the second carriage over the remains of Mr. Adamson. The occurrence was also witnessed by Mr. D. McNamara, of Woodstock Road, Toowong. Guard W. G. McKeon assisted by Mr. Wm. Neild, of Pinkenba, placed the remains alongside the line, where they were taken possession of by the Clayfield police. Mr. J. G. Tuxworth, the relieving gatekeeper, who was in charge at Hendra, was at the ticket window at the time of the occurrence, and saw all that happened. He states that Mr Adamson stepped off the platform as if to cross the line, but immediately turned, faced the engine, and either fell or threw himself down between the rails. The train stopped in 15 yards.

The late Senator Adamson had been in a bad state of health for some years, and had found it necessary to obtain relief from his Parliamentary duties on several occasions. He was born in the North of England and commenced to earn his livelihood when a boy of 10 years of age. He was ambitious as a youth and studied at night classes and in his spare moments until he secured a fairly wide reading in historical and sociological subjects. At the age of 21 years he delivered his first speech in the cause of labour, and though frequently throughout his subsequent life he refused to bend to the dictates of union officials, he was always a staunch adherent of the Labour cause. He was brought up in an old Primitive Methodist home, and when still a young man he decided to enter the Methodist ministry. He came to Queensland some 44 years ago, and soon secured an opportunity of realising his ambition. He entered the ministry of that Church under the Rev. William Powell, and throughout Mr. Adamson's life Mr. Powell remained a fast friend. Both in the church and in politics Mr. Adamson was impetuous, frequently driving onward, as it were, indifferent to consequences, and following his own spirit of enthusiasm. His earnestness, however, was never doubted and during his many years in the Methodist Church in the Central district, Maryborough, and other places he won many admirers and close friends. In the year 1907 he resigned his position in the Methodist Church and entered politics, having been returned for Maryborough, in May of that year, in the Caucus interests. He found party discipline fearfully irksome. Though his heart was with the theoretical cause of that party, he frequently resented the methods that were employed, and his very soul rebelled against political diplomacy. The successful politician to a greater or lesser extent, is an opportunist. There was no opportunism about Mr. Adamson. He had the visionary gleam of the political prophet, as it was, and he became the voice of unrest and disquiet until the fact was accomplished. He shrunk from political engineering of any kind and proclaimed his beliefs whether they squared with party discipline or not. The result was that his first experience of Parliament was not happy, and he refused to contest the seat at the next election in the following year. He went back to the Church, filling several important posts as locum tenens, but in 1911 he entered the political arena once more, being returned for Rockhampton, a seat which he held continuously until he resigned in April 1917, with the object of contesting the Federal Senate as a follower of Mr. Hughes. In 1915, when the Ryan Government was returned to power, Mr. Adamson was elected to the Ministry and he came Minister for Railways. His career in that office was not altogether happy, because he worried incessantly about grievances that he could not completely rectify, and reforms that he could not accomplish. He was intensely loyal however, to his Premier, and Mr. Ryan was certainly not unmindful of this, and became Mr. Adamson's greatest friend both in Cabinet and Caucus, a fact which Mr Adamson cherished. His son went to the Front, and Mr. Adamson enthusiastically loyal to the Empire, fretted and worried at the lack of recruits, and, at what seemed to him, the disastrous want of enthusiasm in this regard in his party. When Mr. Hughes raised the conscription referendum question Mr. Adamson threw himself heart and soul into the movement, and resigned his portfolio and his membership of the party, declining to be associated with men who, he believed, were lacking in patriotism to the British Empire. He rendered special and significant service throughout that campaign, and a testimonial, subscribed to through the Courier by persons of all shades of political opinion, resulting in a substantial sum of money was presented to him. He worried over the defeat of that referendum, however, and his health began to shatter, so much so that he was not able, except on a few occasions, to take his seat in Parliament during the subsequent session of the State Parliament. His health was still very indifferent when he decided to contest the Federal Senate election, for which purpose he resigned his seat at Rockhampton. Mr. Adamson, however, was not chosen as one of the Nationalist candidates, and this, together with the failure to secure adequate recruits, hastened an illness which had been creeping on him for months, and for some days his condition was exceedingly critical. He rallied, however, and recovered his health to some extent. In the general election of 1918 he was induced by a number of loyalists to contest Paddington against Mr. J. A. Fihelly, and stood as an Independent Democratic candidate, but was defeated, in 1919, however, he was elected to represent Queensland in the Senate, and in the same year was decorated with the O.B.E. for his services during the war. He is survived by his widow, one daughter, and two sons, both of whom saw service during the Great War.

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Citation details

'Adamson, John (1857–1922)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 February, 1857
Tudhoe, Durham, England


2 May, 1922 (aged 65)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

train accident

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