Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England on the 15 December 1882, and died in Cape Town, 5 July 1966. Politician, roving ambassador for South Africa, health fanatic and author, Thomas was the eldest son of Thomas Boydell and his wife, Sarah Jane Hackett.Boydell went to school at Rutherford College from 1887 to 1896, afterwards qualifying as a fitter. Encouraged by his father he emigrated to South Africa in 1903 and worked as a fitter first in the Natal Harbour Works and later in the railway workshop in Durban. A member of the Railwaymen’s Association and later of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, he soon distinguished himself as a negotiator in labour union affairs, and in 1909 served on government commissions to represent the workers. He now began to take an interest in politics; he became organizational secretary of the Labour Party, of which he was a founder member, and for which he contested the Durban-Greyville seat in the first general election after unification, but was defeated. However he won the seat in a by-election in June 1912. During the strike of 1914 Boydell was arrested (16 January 1914) and charged with conspiracy against the government but was released on bail of £300 after spending five days in jail.
He continued his political career and was re-elected a member of the House of Assembly in 1915 and 1920. In the early ‘twenties, while he was still deputy parliamentary leader of the Labour Party and chairman of the caucus, he started the political weekly The Guardian. He acted as parliamentary leader from February 1921 to July 1922 during F.H.P. Creswell’s absence from parliament after losing his seat in the election of 1921.
Boydell became Minister of Posts and Telegraphs and of Public Works when the Pact Government came into power in 1924. He stood out as a particularly active minister from the start and was responsible for instituting the so-called ‘penny postage’, a COD postal service, automatic telephone exchanges, and an experimental airmail service which later became permanent. His amazing memory was demonstrated on one occasion when during a budget debate he listened to sixty-three questions put by twenty-one members, answering the questions in the correct order without making any notes whatever. In his capacity as Minister of Public Works he arranged for the purchase of Kruger House by the government in January 1925, rescued the old Supreme Court building in Cape Town from demolition, and advocated the building of the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. He was given the Labour portfolio in 1925 and for the next four years concentrated mainly on unemployment and the Poor White question. He also accompanied the Prince of Wales on his tour of South Africa in 1925. His defeat in the 1929 election can be attributed mainly to the support he gave to the Flag Bill as a member of the parliamentary faction of the Labour Party, the unfavourable reaction evoked by his handling of the Doornkop settlement, and the split in the ranks of the Labour Party.
Boydell was made a senator in September 1929 and shortly afterwards, in 1930, caused a sensation when in the corridor of the Parliamentary Buildings he hit the M.P. for Illovo, J.S. Marwick, with his fist after he had made certain allegations about Boydell’s handling of the Doornkop settlement. In 1930 Boydell led the South African government’s delegation to the International Labour Conference in Geneva. In addition he urged that a national home for the Bushmen should be instituted, and his efforts were rewarded when a homeland was created for them in South-West Africa. His term of office as a senator ended in 1939, after which he joined the United Party, but resigned from it six years later and withdrew from party politics altogether.
Meanwhile Boydell had also been concentrating on health culture and had become a partner in the Radiant Health Institute in Cape Town. On occasion he gave lectures and demonstrations at the Bernard Macfadden Institute in the USA and was awarded its Honours Diploma for Physical Health and Culture. He managed his own health clinic in Cape Town from 1939-46. He was also an active businessman and director of various companies, including the Alpha South African Steamship Company and Phoenix Oil Products.
In 1953 Boydell left on the first of a series of overseas tours to England and the USA as a self-appointed roving ambassador for South Africa. He visited the USA again in 1955, Australia in 1956, 1957 and 1959, Ghana in 1957, and Sweden, Denmark and England in 1958. With his theme, ‘South Africa, its people and its problems’, he put the country’s case to the public in a very positive way. He appeared on television and radio both in South Africa and abroad and wrote articles for newspapers, to which he was also a diligent writer of letters. Besides his autobiography, consisting of two volumes, My luck was in and My luck ‘ s still in (both infra ), he published a book on the race question in South Africa, entitled My beloved country ( infra ). He was a whole-hearted supporter of the Nationalist government’s policy of separate development.
Boydell, who was small of stature, was a versatile person, When young he went in for boxing, cycling, rugby, and bowls and later held charity concerts at which he sang, acting also as patron of various charitable and sporting bodies. He had decided convictions and was absolutely honest in his motives and conduct. He was the perfect example of the self-made man who rose to the top through his indomitable spirit, courtesy, and will-power.
The University of the Orange Free State awarded him an honorary doctorate in philosophy on 25.3.1961, in recognition of his many years of service to South Africa in different spheres.
Boydell married Eva Horswell (†1.6.1943) in 1905 but had no children. There is a portrait of him in the Parliamentary Buildings and another in the South African National Art Gallery, both painted by Edward Roworth; Madge Johnson’s portrait of him can be seen in the Cape Archives.