Thomas Playfair

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Thomas Playfair
Portrait of Thomas Playfair
Portrait of Playfair
Born John Thomas Playfair
Essex, England
Baptised 12 February 1832
Died 15 November 1893
Kings Cross, New South Wales
Occupation Navy steward, butcher, ship's providore, politician
Known for Reforms in public sanitation, establishment of Homebush sale-yards, charitable work
Relatives Thomas Alfred John Playfair (grandson)

John Thomas Playfair (1832 – 15 November 1893) was an English-born Australian butcher, ship's providore, politician and benefactor.[1]

Early life[edit]

John Thomas Playfair, known as Thomas Playfair, the eldest son of tailor Thomas Playfair and Mary Anne, née Arnold, was baptised on 12 February 1832 in Essex, England. He went to sea at the age of twelve, becoming a captain's steward in the Royal Navy. In 1859 he settled in Sydney, entering into a partnership with wholesale butcher E. J. Baily, also operating a separate business as a shipping butcher. On 7 November 1860 he married Ellen Matheson, with whom he had three sons. After her death in 1866, he married her sister, Georgina Hope, on 26 February 1867; they had a daughter and two sons.[1][2][3]


Following the death of E. J. Baily, Playfair continued the business partnership with his widow. The ship's providore venture grew into a prosperous enterprise.[1]

Playfair was a Sydney City Councillor, representing Gipps Ward continuously from 1875 to 1893. His achievements during his time in the Council include the widening of George Street North and the erection of new cattle sale-yards at Homebush.[3] Serving as Mayor of Sydney in 1885, he pledged to "improve the homes of the poor, and clear out the dark places of the city".[4] In 1889 he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as a Free Trade member for West Sydney, serving until his defeat in 1891.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Playfair was a generous benefactor to several charities, including the Sydney Ragged School, the Sisters of St Joseph's Providence and the Boys' Brigade.[1]

Playfair died at his home in Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross on 15 November 1893, following an attack of rheumatic gout.[6] He was interred in the Church of England section of Waverley Cemetery.[7] His estate, which included approximately thirty properties in the City, Eastern Suburbs, North Sydney and Manly, was divided between his four surviving children, Thomas Arnold, Edmund John Baily, Jessie and Alfred Donald. The butchering business was bequeathed to Edmund.[8]

Legacy / Memorials[edit]

Playfair Street and Playfair Stairs, both located in The Rocks, are named after Thomas Playfair.[1]

The Playfair Memorial Drinking Fountain was installed at the Flemington sale-yards in May 1896, in recognition of Playfair's efforts to modernise Sydney's water supply. The fountain was moved to Sydney Olympic Park on 1 March 1968.[9]

A plaque was placed on the doors of Holy Trinity Church in Millers Point in 1960 in his memory.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Duncan, Ross (1974). "Playfair, John Thomas (1832–1893)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  2. ^ "New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages". State of New South Wales. Department of Justice. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Mr. Thomas Playfair, Mayor of Sydney for 1885". The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser. XXXVIII (1277). 27 December 1884. p. 1289. Retrieved 7 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ "His Worship the Mayor of Sydney, Thomas Playfair, J.P." Australian Town and Country Journal. XXXI (782). New South Wales, Australia. 3 January 1885. p. 19. Retrieved 7 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Mr (John) Thomas Playfair (1831 - 1893)". Former Members. Parliament of New South Wales. 2008. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  6. ^ "DEATH OF ALDERMAN PLAYFAIR". The Sydney Morning Herald (17, 366). 16 November 1893. p. 5. Retrieved 7 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "FUNERAL OF ALDERMAN PLAYFAIR". The Sydney Morning Herald (17, 367). 17 November 1893. p. 5. Retrieved 7 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "Alderman Playfair's Will". Evening News (8283). New South Wales. 18 December 1893. p. 5. Retrieved 7 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ "Fact sheet – Public art" (PDF). Sydney Olympic Park. Sydney Olympic Park Authority. January 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas Playfair Pty Ltd [1960]. The Playfair Story, 1860–1960. Sydney: Harbour Press.
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Alexander Kethel
George Merriman
Member for West Sydney
Served alongside: Abigail, Lamb/Taylor, O'Connor
Succeeded by
George Black
Thomas Davis
John FitzGerald
Andrew Kelly
Civic offices
Preceded by
John Hardie
Mayor of Sydney
Succeeded by
John Young