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Fulton, Thomas (1813–1859)

by Roslyn Brereton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Thomas Fulton (1813-1859), foundry owner, was born on 10 September 1813 at Dundee, Scotland, son of Thomas Fulton (d.1866), wrought-iron worker, and his wife Isabella, née Wheelwright. He was apprenticed to a machine-maker and did well. Attracted to the Congregational Church by Dr David Russell, he became a dedicated Christian. He decided to migrate to Port Phillip in partnership with Robert Langlands, brother of George and Henry, and arrived at Melbourne with his family in February 1842. With Langlands, Fulton set up an iron foundry on swampy land in Flinders Street. At first they had only a small foot-lathe but built up their business by determination and ingenuity. They erected a steam engine for the first mill in Melbourne and turned rack woolpresses for squatters, Fulton cutting the square-threaded screws by hand as the lathe was too small. When in 1843-44 squatters slaughtered thousands of stock, Fulton developed a technique for boiling them down for tallow. He was in partnership in 1846-55 with George Annand and Robert Smith and then ran the business himself; by 1858 when the gold rush had rapidly increased its output, the firm was employing 150 men. Fulton undertook plumbing and smithy work, made dray wheels, milled flour and was a licensed merchant and insurance agent. That Fulton was well liked by his men as an upright and humane employer is shown by a letter of loyalty and a silver tray they presented him in 1858.

Fulton was the first deacon of the Congregational Church in Victoria. He paid much of the cost of setting up the Lonsdale Street and St Kilda churches and donated £1000 to a £5000 fund to bring ministers from Scotland to cope with the gold rush. In 1858 he attended a church conference in Hobart. As a speaker he was popular for his 'homely and racy eloquence', although he once stood for parliament and was defeated. He was a magistrate and a Melbourne city councillor in 1854-59. A strong advocate of temperance, he also took a prominent part in agitation for separation and abolition of transportation. He formed a land syndicate which invested extensively in Malvern and Gardiner.

On 18 February 1859 Fulton was accidentally thrown to his death down a mine-shaft in Bendigo while checking the installation of machinery. He had intended to open a branch in Bendigo to make quartz-crushing machinery of his own invention. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, née Black, and seven of eight children. To Garryowen, 'Fulton was the sort of man for an infant settlement; skilful, and industrious, strong of mind, iron in frame, outspoken, and honest to the backbone'. His headstone was erected by his employees. He died intestate but some of his property later passed to his brothers: William (1825-1879), joiner and patternmaker; James, timber merchant; and Robert, who carried on the foundry.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Cooper, The History of St. Kilda: From its First Settlement to a City and After, 1840 to 1930, vol 1 (Melb, 1931)
  • J. B. Cooper, A History of Malvern (Melb, 1935)
  • Age (Melbourne), 16, 18 Nov 1854
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Feb 1859
  • 'In Memoriam', My Note Book, 23 Feb 1859, p 907
  • Southern Spectator, Apr 1859.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Roslyn Brereton, 'Fulton, Thomas (1813–1859)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fulton-thomas-3583/text5549, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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