NELSON, Sir Hugh Muir (1835-1906)


NELSON, Sir Hugh Muir (1835-1906)
premier of Queensland
was born at Kilmarnock, Scotland, on 31 December 1835. His father, Dr William Lambie Nelson, was elected to the first Queensland parliament in 1860 but was unseated because he was a minister of religion. The boy was educated at the Edinburgh high school, and began a promising course under Sir William Hamilton at Edinburgh university. This was cut short when he went with his father to Queensland in 1853 and settled at Ipswich. Nelson obtained a position in a mercantile house, and then took up a pastoral life about six miles out of Ipswich. He then went to the Darling Downs to manage a station, and in 1870 married Janet, daughter of Duncan McIntyre. He afterwards took up Loudon station in the Dalby district and in 1880, when the divisional boards act came in, he was elected a member of the Wambo board. His strong personality and cultivated intellect soon led to his being appointed chairman of the board. He was elected to the legislative assembly for Northern Downs in 1883, and after the 1887 redistribution of seats, he was member for Murilla. In June 1888 he became secretary for railways in the McIlwraith (q.v.) ministry and held the same position when B. D. Morehead (q.v.) succeeded McIlwraith. When Griffith (q.v.) became premier, Nelson was elected leader of the opposition, but when Griffith resigned in March 1893 to become chief justice, Nelson formed a coalition with McIlwraith taking the portfolios of treasurer and vice-president of the executive council. In October he became premier in a ministry which lasted four and a half years, for the last three years of which he was also chief secretary. Nelson did most valuable work as treasurer during the depression which followed the financial crisis of 1893. When the T. J. Byrnes ministry came in in April 1898 Nelson became president of the legislative council, and in 1903 lieutenant-governor, for both of which positions his fine appearance, tact and grace of manner eminently fitted him. He died at Toowoomba on 1 January 1906 and was survived by Lady Nelson, two sons and three daughters. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1896 and was appointed to the privy council at the time of his visit to England during the diamond jubilee celebrations in 1897.
Nelson had an intimate knowledge of men, and was an excellent parliamentarian with a good grasp of constitutional matters and a keen understanding of financial questions. His genial nature made him personally popular and though scarcely an orator, his practical common sense always made him worthy of attention. He was opposed both to the separation movement in Queensland and to federation. He showed himself to be a strong man during the shearers' strike of 1894, but his best work was done as treasurer when he led the colony out of a state of financial chaos.
The Brisbane Courier, 2 January, 1906; Who's Who, 1906; C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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