History of Thomas George Macarthy

About Thomas George Macarthy

Thomas George Macarthy

Thomas George Macarthy was born in London in 1833, the son of Thos. Macarthy, a catholic florist and of Ann Elizabeth, Nee Grout, a beautiful and distinguished Quakeress.

Macarthy was attracted to the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s, latter 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.

He moved to Wellington 1877, bought a brewery in Customhouse Quay and another in Tory Street (where Bunnings now stands). 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 was a member of the board of directors of the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Co., becoming its chairman in 1897. He was also a director of the Wellington Opera House Co. Macarthy took and active interest in the Industrial Exhibition (1896-97), making himself responsible for its financial success, and was also for some years president of the Wellington Racing Club.

On 28 April 1897, at St. Mary’s of the Angels, Wellington he married Mary Ellen Fitzsimmons, daughter of an old West Coast settler and 40 years his junior. His best man was John Plimmer, the self-styled “Father of Wellington”. 

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.

Thomas George Macarthy died childless in 1912. His will provided for his wife Mary along with provision for his wife’s husband or children should she remarry. Mary Macarthy Nee Fitzsimons died in 1933 at the age of (76). 

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.