The Chairman of the Queensland Football Association (QFA) when a football controversy raged in Brisbane in 1884 as rugby and Australian Football battled for the hearts and minds of Queenslanders. He was a staunch advocate for Melbourne Rules and acknowledged at an acrimonious QFA meeting in 1884 “the history of the Melbourne game in Queensland up to the present time”, and claimed it to be unquestionably the game of the colony.
Born in Ipswich in 1858, one year before Queensland’s separation from New South Wales, he was educated at Ipswich Grammar and later lived in Brisbane and played Melbourne Rules for the Brisbane Football Club. He won election to parliament and earned the nickname of “Bung Bung”, which reflected his geniality and popularity.
He wrote several books about the history of the Moreton Bay region. He was the key person in the hopes of Australian Football maintaining its position of dominance over rugby in the early to mid-1880s. At this time he was obviously young but beginning to make his way in the business world of Brisbane. He was an intelligent man who, from newspaper accounts, was not one for great oratories as seemed to be the fashion of other football administrators at that time. His literary and financial skills were a strength and benefit to the many voluntary organisations he patronised.
A significant contribution to Australian Football was his publication in 1883 of a much-lauded booklet entitled
In 1884, while what the Brisbane Courier described as a football controversy brewed, Tom Welsby’s voluntary and professional associations positioned him to feel the full force of its eventual eruption. He had held the highly respected position of secretary/treasurer of the Brisbane Football Club from 1879 after joining the club in 1874. Many of his friends and business associates would have been those Brisbane and Wallaroos members whose allegiances lay with rugby.
Welsby was renowned for his loyalty. He was a strong and articulate advocate for the national game when it was reaching its darkest hour in the late 1880s. There was no more influential figure in 19th century Australian football in Queensland. The eventual demise of the code was no fault of his. He returned to assist in the administration of the sport when it re-emerged in the first decade of the 20th century and was patron in the early 1920s to mark more than 40 years with the Australian game.
In 1928 he helped revive Rugby Union and is key figure in the history of the QRU as well.
Queensland Footballer. Within this publication, he was to make the following prophetic statement concerning the playing of Australian Rules within the grammar schools: “So long as the Melbourne game is played in our public schools, we need never fear for the rugby … If that game [rugby] takes root in the Brisbane schools, let alone Ipswich or other towns,[however], then say good bye Melbourne, prepare your own epitaph, select your burial year and place, your death is nigh at hand.”.