Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Clark, Thomas (1756–1828)

by A. Rand

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

Thomas Clark (1756?-1828), superintendent, sailed with Lieutenant-Governor David Collins from Spithead in the Calcutta on 24 April 1803, as agricultural superintendent in the expedition intended to found a colony at Port Phillip. After Collins decided to abandon the site Clark, then in charge of the convicts, supervised the reloading of stores in the Ocean in December, and later that month was sent with William Collins and Adolarius Humphrey, the party's mineralogist, to inspect the resources of Port Dalrymple. The three men spent nearly three weeks there, and the observations in Clark's journal, where he recorded his impressions of the soil and vegetation, of which he collected specimens, suggest that he had a farming background. On the party's return to Port Phillip, however, they found that David Collins had already determined to remove to the Derwent; there, in August 1804 Clark was put in charge of the government farm at New Town, where the colony's stock had been sent.

As principal superintendent of the convicts, who outnumbered the free settlers many times, Clark's responsibilities were heavy, but his reliability and efficiency in discharging them earned the admiration of David Collins, who pressed Governor Philip Gidley King to increase his salary. In February 1805 Collins was preparing for the arrival of more people and stock at the settlement, so he sent Clark to report on the suitability of Risdon and Herdsman's Coves for further government farms; this done, Clark remained at the head of the main New Town establishment, where constant supervision of the farm stores was required to prevent thefts during the critical years of food shortage.

In October 1807 Clark was transferred from this position, and took up residence in the main settlement at Hobart Town as storekeeper. He was still in government employment when, with J. Barnes, he printed in 1810 Tasmania's first newspaper, the Derwent Star and Van Diemen's Land Intelligencer. This was a government journal, edited by George Prideaux Harris, but it lasted only twelve issues. By this time Clark had also begun trading in partnership with Thomas Birch, for after the deposition of Governor William Bligh the restrictions on government officers carrying on mercantile business were relaxed; however, after Collins died Clark left the public service, possibly forced out of office by Edward Lord, who had assumed the government and as a fellow-trader may have resented his competitor, Clark, having charge of the government stores.

On the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, Clark was granted 100 acres (40 ha) which he finally located at Campania. He was appointed superintendent of convicts once more, but resigned in 1812. Older than most of his fellow free settlers, without wife or family, and therefore lacking an incentive that made others ambitious and industrious, Clark's later years lacked colour. By 1819 his land was still unimproved. He employed himself in Hobart as a gardener and, although he owned a few cattle, his name was not among those who sold meat to the commissariat, the only means at that time of profiting from landholding. His former services earned him enough respect to win him election as foreman of the jury which inquired into the death of James O'Burne at the hands of Michael Howe's gang in 1815, but he took no part in other public controversies, and his death in December 1828 was not noticed in the press.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 7, series 3, vols 1-2
  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Melb, 1939)
  • Landholders' muster, Buckingham, 1819 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

A. Rand, 'Clark, Thomas (1756–1828)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-thomas-1899/text2241, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 July 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018