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Archer, Thomas (1790–1850)

by G. T. Stilwell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Thomas Archer (1790-1850), commissariat officer and landowner, was born on 3 April 1790, the fourth but second surviving son of William Archer (1754-1833) of Hertford, England, and Martha, daughter of John Kensey. According to a grandson he received some instruction in agriculture before emigrating to New South Wales. He sailed in 1811 in the transport Guildford carrying a letter of introduction to Governor Lachlan Macquarie in the belief that through the influence of his uncle, Thomas George Street, editor and joint proprietor of the London Courier, he was to be appointed a deputy assistant commissary general. The governor received no such instruction but he appointed Archer a clerk in the commissariat at Sydney, where he had arrived on 18 January 1812, until in November he was able to make him acting deputy assistant commissary on a salary of £91 5s. in place of James Wilshire. Macquarie was concerned over the omission of Archer's name from the official commissariat list furnished to Commissary David Allan who was only prepared to admit Archer as a junior clerk; but in September 1813 he appeared to have solved the difficulty by appointing Archer clerk in charge of the commissariat at Port Dalrymple. In May 1814 Archer succeeded the unworthy Dr Jacob Mountgarrett as second magistrate there. In June 1816 he became coroner for the County of Cornwall and eighteen months later was appointed at his own request magistrate for the territory. On 1 March 1817 he was made acting deputy assistant commissary general. In December he was moved from Port Dalrymple, where he had already considerable landed property, to relieve William Broughton in charge of the commissariat at Hobart Town. He remained there until October 1819 when he was again placed in control at Port Dalrymple. Several attempts were made by his superiors to have Archer confirmed as deputy assistant commissary general but they failed and on 21 July 1821 Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell permitted him to resign. He had quarrelled with the commandants Major Stewart and Major Gilbert Cimitiere, but had conducted his public duties with an honest zeal that was rare among officers of his day.

Meanwhile he had not neglected his own interests and was able to retire to his 2000-acre (809 ha) estate. By March 1825 Archer held 6000 acres (2428 ha) by grant and much other property by purchase. His successes inspired his brother Joseph to emigrate; later they were joined by two other brothers William (1788-1879) and Edward (1793-1862) and by their father. The Archer brothers were good farmers. They lived on and developed their land, and in 1826 earned high praise from those captious critics, the land commissioners. The homesteads they built—Woolmers, Panshanger, Brickendon, Northbury, Fairfield, Cheshunt, Woodside, Palmerston and Saundridge—many still in the hands of descendants, are among the finest in northern Tasmania and are a memorial to their sagacity and taste. In 1826 Thomas was appointed a member of the first Legislative Council, and remained a member until ill health forced his resignation in 1845. His honesty, integrity and fair-mindedness impressed everyone. Lady Jane Franklin, partly in allusion to his physical size, once called him 'the bulk of the Legislative Council'. When his brother Joseph and William Lawrence fell out with Arthur's administration over the resumption of some of their part of the Launceston swamp, Thomas sided with the government. His successes with stock importation assured his prosperity. On 1 July 1842 he joined his brothers in their banking firm of Archers, Gilles & Co.; by its failure two years later he lost heavily. Perhaps this altered his outlook on life, for his son William's diaries of the late 1840s speak of Thomas's parsimony and refusal to accept changing conditions; for all that he strongly supported the abolition of transportation. He died of dropsy at Woolmers on 16 October 1850, and was buried in the crested family vault in the cemetery of Christ Church, Longford. His portrait hangs in the dining-room at Woolmers.

On 12 December 1816 Archer married Susannah (1801-1875), called Susan, fourth daughter of James Hortle (1754?-1808), a private in the New South Wales Corps, and a sister of Ann, wife of William Thomas Lyttleton. Six of their fourteen children survived infancy. The three sons were educated in England. The descendants of Thomas William (1817-1844) still live at Woolmers. Joseph (1823-1914) succeeded his uncle and namesake at Panshanger; Martha Elizabeth Henrietta married Robert Kermode; Ellen married Rev. Alfred Stackhouse; Susan Ann (1825-1904) married John Stewart Kilgour (1815-1902) M.D., F.R.C.S. (Edin).

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 7-9, series 3, vols 2-6
  • Examiner (Launceston), 19 Oct 1850
  • Franklin papers (Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge)
  • Archer papers (University of Tasmania)
  • correspondence file under T. Archer (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. T. Stilwell, 'Archer, Thomas (1790–1850)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/archer-thomas-1475/text1867, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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