History of Thomas George Macarthy

Thomas George MacarthyThomas George Macarthy was born in London in 1833, the son of Thomas Bernard Macarthy, a florist and his wife, Ann Elizabeth Grout.  Nothing is known about his early life.

Macarthy was attracted to the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s, later settling at Geelong. He crossed the Tasman to the Otago diggings in 1865, and from there followed the rush to the West Coast where, after some success on the various goldfields, most notably at Reefton, he established a small brewery at Charleston.

Seeking to expand his buisness Mr Macarthy moved to Wellington 1877 and bought a brewery in Old Custom House Street (Bond Street) and in 1883 a larger brewery in Tory Street.  The Tory Street property is still owned by the Trust. From this start he expanded his business interests into many fields, becoming manager-owner of the barque Weatherfield, with which he traded between London and New Zealand ports.  He also acquired hotels which were closely linked to his principal business, and other urban property. The financial liquidity of brewing made it a sound investment during the depression of the 1880s and early 1890s.

Macarthy became a respected member of the Wellington business community. He was prominent in the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, the Wellington industrial exhibition of 1896 to 1897, and the company formed in the 1890s to build an opera house. He was elected to the board of directors of the Bank of New Zealand in 1894 when the location of its head office was shifted from London to Wellington, and served until 1898. He was also a member of the Wellington Racing Club.

On 28 April 1897, when aged 63, Macarthy married 23-year-old Mary Ellen Fitzsimons at St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church in Wellington. There were no children of the marriage. His best man was John Plimmer, the self-styled “Father of Wellington”. He remained active in management until his final illness, and died at his Boulcott Street home in Wellington on 19 August 1912. His will provided for his wife Mary along with provision for his wife’s husband or children should she remarry. Mary Macarthy married Walter Edward Reid, a merchant, on 21 January 1914, and the marriage was childless. She died on 1 July 1934 at the age of (76).

Macarthy was known for his low-key generosity, despite the anonymity around any donations, the size of his estate took the city by surprise £500,000 (including the brewery) with a board of governors to include the Governor-General, Prime Minister, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington and the Capital’s Mayor. Macarthy was particularly interested in education (one of his first bequests was the 1919 development endowment of the T G Macarthy chair of economics at Victoria University) and providing for the needy which, in those days, often meant women. 

A state-administered brewery posted a few problems. “The People’s Ale – the more you drink, the more there is for charity” was a bit much for former Prime Minister and Chief Justice, Robert Stout – a committed abolitionist determined to shut down the Public Trust with its links to demon drink. The Public Trust fought off the challenge and the brewery continued in business until bought out by New Zealand Breweries in 1937.

After her marriage, Mrs Macarthy devoted much of her time to charitable work. Thomas George Macarthy gave liberally to charities during his lifetime, but always insisted that the gifts be anonymous. A rare exception to this rule was a donation in 1910 of £500 to the Children’s Hospital. 

Thomas George Macarthy died at his Boulcott Street home in Wellington on 19 August 1912.