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THOMAS FINNEY of FINNEY, ISLES & CO., MERCHANTS & Q’LAND POLITICIAN

The illustrated Queensland postcard (Hambledon Sugar Mill, Cairns) with the printed brown 1d stamp was canceled with an unframed CAIRNS/ 8A/ NO 17/ 03/ QUEENSLAND postmark with a barred numeral ‘499' obliterator and it is addressed to Mrs. Cran, Nelson [Queensland] Figure 1.

The reverse is illustrated with a 4-storey flagged building premises and has a printed Memo. It is dated Brisbane Nov 13 1903 and it has the following message: We beg to advise you that our Mr. Jas C-----son will be at Nelson on Monday & Tuesday 23 rd & 24 th next a full set of General Drapery and Clothing Samples, to which we invite your inspection. The favour of your orders will oblige. Xmas Orders. FINNEY, ISLES & CO., Brisbane and Maryborough and St. Martin St., Fore St., London E.C. (Figure 2).

Thomas Finney, merchant and politician, was born on 10 January 1837 at Currakeen House, Tuam, Galway, Ireland, son of Thomas Finney and his wife Eliza. He was educated privately and in 1856 began work in a drapery business in Dublin. In 1862 with his workmate James Isles, Finney arrived at Brisbane in the Flying Cloud. Two years later in partnership Finney, Isles & Co. bought a drapery business in Ann Street, Fortitude Valley, and with a staff of five traded as Finney Isles & Co. at the Valley Exchange. By 1869 the business had branches in Rockhampton and Gympie; next year they opened a second Brisbane store, the City Exchange in Edward Street. The firm bought these premises in 1873 and with the acquisition of further property expanded into such lines as tailoring, furniture, furnishing and hardware, an early development of the modern department store. The trading was not consolidated until 1909 when new premises were built extending over a whole frontage between Queen and Adelaide Streets.


Finney was always interested in the welfare of his employees and in 1879 pioneered 6 p.m. closing in Brisbane stores. In 1885, with other firms, he instituted 1 p.m. closing on Saturdays and continued it despite the reversion of other firms to the old Saturday hours of 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. A charity fund of the employees was subsidized £ for £ by the management and was administered by a committee comprising the managing director and two leading employees elected by the staff. The business suffered severely in 1893 from flood waters and from the financial crisis, but soon recovered.


Finney was a licensing justice, a member of the Brisbane Board of Water Works and the Fire Brigade Board. He was also president of the Commercial Rowing Club. He was a long-time member of the Toowong Shire Council and in 1896 he yielded to pressure from his friends and associates and stood successfully for the Toowong seat in the Legislative Assembly; in the 1898 election he retained the seat. In parliament he continued his campaign to improve conditions for shop assistants and similar workers. He visited England in 1898, 1900 and 1901-03, and resigned his seat in 1902.


On 24 May 1864 in the Wesleyan Church, Brisbane, Finney married Kate Pringle Little; when she died less than two years later he married Sidney Ann Jackson whose father was a member of the Irish landed gentry, and her sister had married his partner, James Isles. In 1881 she bought land at Toowong, and next year built Sidney House, one of the major residences in Brisbane. Sidney died on 13 October 1883 leaving a son and two daughters; under her will Sidney House became the property of her husband. A magnificent stained glass window was installed in the house. It was imported from Ireland and it had unique panels. The upper panel showed a Kangaroo hunt and the lower panel showed a bullock-drawn plough and it is seen in Figure 3.

In England in 1901 Thomas Finney married a widow, Janet Edgar Farrow, to whom he left a life interest in Sidney House when he died on 16 December 1903. He was buried at Toowong cemetery. In the 1960s Sidney House was acquired by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and Finney Isles & Co. was taken over by David Jones Ltd. A photo of Thomas Finney is shown in Figure 4.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography gave remarkably scant information about the partner, James Isles, namely: ‘d. 1888', and the web gave little more information. They had worked together in a drapery business in Dublin, they migrated together to Queensland and set up their stores (all mentioned in the ADB), and the following additional information was found: James Isles was born in Scotland; prior to migration to Queensland he had married Isabella Jackson of County Monaghan, Ireland, a sister of Sidney Ann Jackson who later became Thomas Finney’s second wife; both James and Thomas finished up being buried in the same cemetery in the same family vault.

Fortunately the following was later found in the Brisbane Courier, Saturday 27 January 1883 James Isles was elected to the West Ward of the Brisbane Municipal Council. The Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 6 November 1888 carried the following information: “The funeral of the late Mr. James Isles .... took place on Sunday afternoon. The funeral cortege, which was about half a mile in length, moved from the deceased’s residence at Clayfield...and reached the Toowong Cemetery at 4.20. A number of the firm’s employees walked on either side of the hearse.... a large concourse of persons had gathered around the family vault......The coffin was of polished cedar with plated ornaments, and bore the inscription, “James Isles, died November 3 rd, 1888: aged 51 years.”

 
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