Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Austin, Thomas (1815–1871)

by P. L. Brown

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

This is a shared entry with James Austin

James Austin (1810-1896) and Thomas Austin (1815-1871), settlers, were born at Baltonsborough, Somerset, England, the fifth and sixth sons of John Austin, villager. Their uncle, James Austin, had been a forced founder of Hobart Town. In 1825 John Austin's second and fourth sons, Solomon and Josiah, emigrated to Van Diemen's Land. In 1831 Josiah collected his parents; the third son William, James, and Thomas; and his sister Anna, later Mrs J. G. Mack. Their convict pioneer uncle died before they arrived in Hobart, but all benefited by his will.

The Austin parents and William ultimately returned to England, where the eldest son, John, remained, but James and Thomas became Tasmanian colonists. James took the inn at Compton Ferry, and bought a stage coach from Solomon and Josiah, who ran the first New Norfolk service. Thomas went to the Ouse, where Solomon and Josiah had most of their estimated 10,000 acres (4047 ha).

Early in 1837 the younger brothers crossed Bass Strait and occupied the site of Winchelsea, first known as Austin's Ford. Here Thomas, backed by his elders, developed contiguous runs from which he evolved Barwon Park, a well-stocked freehold estate of 29,000 acres (11,736 ha), with a magnificent mansion that he hardly lived to see. Here Elizabeth Harding, also from Somerset, sister of one of two partners in a neighbouring station, after twenty-six years as wife spent nearly forty as determined widow. Partly from pique, perhaps, but not depriving her eight surviving children, she founded the Austin Hospital, Melbourne, and the Austin Homes, Geelong.

In 1842 James Austin married the equally impressive Rebecca Savage, whose brother-in-law, Dr George Greeves, had an inn and run on the Werribee, between James's Black Forest station and his emergent Avalon freehold. James's pastoral holdings exceeded Thomas's; but he quickly grasped the potential in urban lands, and became an apparent townsman. Until 1843 he owned Geelong's leading butchery. Before 1850, his plastered-brick Gothic 'Priory' stood next to N. A. Fenwick's timbered 'Hermitage'. He was an alderman of Geelong's first town council, and in 1851 its second elected mayor. But in 1853 he initiated the sale of his local lots, and in 1856 he retired to Somerset.

Five of his nine children were born in Glastonbury, where he bought the abbey house and the ruined abbey; lived in one, and died there, ten years after his wife; restored the other's dignity. He was four times mayor of Glastonbury, and saw Geelong again only in his old age. He then said he had not expected to be away so long from the place he loved, that he still wished to forward it. An orphanage and the town clock affirmed his past attachment. He retained many business interests, and with their other remaining uncles helped four of his brother John's sons to become Australians. His own second son took Avalon, and grafted a sculptured bloom of the Holy Thorn into the bluestone homestead with which he replaced the first.

What matter-of-fact, shrewd magic shielded these staunch but largely self-taught men, who so well combined sense with sentiment, and personal success with public good, when many early birds lost half their feathers? A tradition of accepted matriarchy, and lines for the carven rose attributed to J. L. Cuthbertson suggest a partial answer:

This stone from Glastonbury brought
Into the wall of Avalon is wrought.
Stay for a moment traveller & view
This link between the old world & the new.

Select Bibliography

  • C. M. Goodridge, Narrative of a Voyage to the South Seas (Exeter, 1839), p 113
  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • M. Kiddle, Men of Yesterday (Melb, 1961)
  • Hobart Town Courier, 15 Aug 1829, 31 Dec 1831, 6 Dec 1833, 31 July, 7 Aug, 2 & 16 Oct, 6 Nov 1835, 17 June, 2 Dec 1836
  • Geelong Advertiser, 2 Jan 1843, 29 & 30 June, 30 Dec 1871, 23 Aug 1889
  • Illustrated London News, 30 Dec 1854.

Additional Resources

Citation details

P. L. Brown, 'Austin, Thomas (1815–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/austin-thomas-1521/text1897, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 November 2014.

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

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