Thomas Playford II

Thomas Playford (26 November 1837 – 19 April 1915) was an Australian politician who served two terms as Premier of South Australia (1887–1889; 1890–1892). He subsequently entered federal politics, serving as a Senator for South Australia from 1901 to 1906 and as Minister for Defence from 1905 to 1907.

Thomas Playford
17th Premier of South Australia
In office
11 June 1887 (1887-06-11)  27 June 1889 (1889-06-27)
GovernorSir William Robinson
Earl of Kintore
Preceded byJohn Downer
Succeeded byJohn Cockburn
In office
19 August 1890 (1890-08-19)  21 June 1892 (1892-06-21)
GovernorEarl of Kintore
Preceded byJohn Cockburn
Succeeded byFrederick Holder
Federal Minister for Defence
In office
5 July 1905  24 January 1907
Prime MinisterAlfred Deakin
Preceded byJames Whiteside McCay
Succeeded byThomas Ewing
Senator for South Australia
In office
30 March 1901  31 December 1906
5th Leader of the Opposition (SA)
In office
Preceded byJohn Cockburn
Succeeded byFrederick Holder
In office
Preceded byJenkin Coles
Succeeded byJohn Downer
Personal details
Born(1837-11-26)26 November 1837
Bethnal Green, London, England
Died19 April 1915(1915-04-19) (aged 77)
Kent Town, South Australia
Mary Jane Kinsman
(m. 1860)
RelativesThomas Playford I (father), Thomas Playford IV (grandson), John Henry Sexton (son-in-law)

Early life

Born in Bethnal Green, London in 1837, Thomas Playford II[note 1] moved to Adelaide in 1844 with his parents the Rev. Thomas Playford (c. 1795 – 18 September 1873) and his wife Mary Anne Playford, née Perry (c. 1804 – 27 April 1872), two brothers and a sister. He worked as a farmer prior to entering politics.[1][2]

South Australian politics

Elected to the Parliament of South Australia at the 1868 election as the Member for Onkaparinga,[2] he gained the sobriquet "Honest Tom" for his forthright and straightforward manner, although these same qualities would earn him the occasional disapproval of fellow politicians and the electorate, such as the remark in parliament stinkwort and Emil Wentzel were weeds that had come from Germany, a remark that contributed to his defeat at the 1871 election.[1][2] Playford returned to Parliament at the 1875 election as member for East Torrens and held the position of Reforming Commissioner for Crown Lands and Immigration before losing his seat yet again at the 1887 election. A month later however, he won the seat of Newcastle.[2] By mid-1887 he became Premier and Treasurer, positions he would hold for two years until a vote of no confidence passed. During his premiership, his most important achievement was considered to be the implementation of the first systematic tariff system for South Australia.[1][3][4]

He regained East Torrens at the 1890 election and a few months later he formed his second government, again becoming Premier and Treasurer, and would again last for two years. He received kudos for significantly reducing the colony's debt, although he spent much of this second term in India. Charles Kingston brought together the various 'liberal' groups and was able to defeat the conservative John Downer government at the 1893 election with Labor support. The Kingston government would last for a then-record six years. Kingston had appointed Playford as Treasurer in his government, however in 1894 Playford moved to London to act as Agent-General for South Australia before returning to South Australia in 1898 to serve in Kingston's government from the 1899 election as member for Gumeracha,[2] until he crossed the floor in later that year over a potential erosion of the power of the Legislative Council, bringing down the Kingston government in the process. He also found the time to involve himself in the planning of the Federation of the Australian Commonwealth and drafting the Australian Constitution. As part of this, he proposed the title "Commonwealth of Australia".[1][3]

Federal politics

Playford, c. 1901

As a moderate Protectionist, but with the endorsement of the conservative Australasian National League (formerly National Defence League), Playford became a Senator at the inaugural 1901 federal election. Two years later in Alfred Deakin's government, Playford served for seven months as Leader of the Government in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council. He became Minister for Defence in 1905 which he held for 18 months. He was defeated in the 1906 federal election, the first serving Minister to suffer this fate. His term as a Senator ended on 31 December 1906, and his ministerial commission was terminated on 24 January 1907.[5] Playford made one further unsuccessful attempt to re-enter the Senate at the 1910 federal election.[1]


Playford died in Kent Town, Adelaide on 19 April 1915.[1][3]


Playford married Mary Jane Kinsman (born 20 May 1835, the daughter of Rev. William Kinsman) on 16 December 1860. The couple had eleven children: five sons, five daughters and one adoptive daughter.[1]

His eldest daughter Annie (died 1956) married the Rev. John Henry Sexton on 30 June 1886.

On 1 January 1889 his second daughter Eliza (born 1866) married Harry J. Tuck (born 1863), elder brother of painter Marie Tuck and later headmaster at Unley High School.[6]

Playford's grandson, Sir Thomas Playford, also served as Premier of South Australia.


  1. Delineating the various Thomas Playfords with a generation number is solely for ease of reference in this and related articles; in Australia there is no tradition of referring to "Thomas Playford II" et al. in speech or in writing.

See also


  1. Playford, John (1988). "Playford, Thomas (1837–1915)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  2. "Hon Thomas Playford II". Former members of the Parliament of South Australia. Retrieved 23 August 2022.
  3. Serle, Percival (1949). "Playford, Thomas (1837–1915)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  4. "Thomas Playford - 1887". Members. Parliament of South Australia. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2007.
  5. Milburn, Elizabeth (2000). "PLAYFORD, Thomas (1837–1915)". The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate. Retrieved 11 January 2023.
  6. "Aunt of Premier Wed 50 Years". The News. Adelaide. 31 December 1938. p. 5. Retrieved 5 December 2015 via Trove.


  • Jupp, J. (2004) The English in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


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