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Price, Thomas Caradoc (1842–1911)

by Chris Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Thomas Caradoc Rose Price (1842-1911), soldier, was born on 21 October 1842 in Hobart Town, son of John Giles Price and his wife Mary, née Franklin, niece of Sir John Franklin. He was educated in Hobart Town and at Scotch College, Melbourne, from 1854. He entered the East India Military College, Addiscombe, England, in December 1859 after failing his entrance examinations twice, was commissioned on 7 July 1861 in the Madras Infantry and began twenty years service in India with several regiments.

In 1868 he joined the Indian Staff Corps at Madras, and was for about eight years in 'judicial employ', often as a police superintendent. For his 'untiring energy and resource' following a disastrous cyclone at Madras on 2 May 1872, he received the thanks of the government. On 5 August 1874 he married Mary Dennistoun Baillie (d.1899), sister of the 3rd Baronet Baillie of Polkemmet. Promoted major in June 1881, he retired in April 1883 with the honorary rank of lieutenant-colonel. During his years in India he was a keen hunter.

Returning to Victoria in 1883, Price farmed at Heidelberg and became an energetic member of the rifle-club movement, conceiving the idea of a volunteer corps raised from club members in country districts. In 1885 the government approved the raising of a force of one thousand, to be known as the Victorian Mounted Rifles, and on 1 May appointed Price to its command with rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Permanent Military Forces. He entered into this task with enthusiasm and within two years 968 men had been enlisted. Price was also involved in the raising of units of mounted rifles in other colonies (forerunners of the light horse), and commanded the Victorian Rangers from 1 May 1888 until March 1889.

During the maritime strike of 1890 the government called out members of the mounted rifles to assist in maintaining order. On the evening before a mass meeting of trade unionists scheduled for 31 August, Price told his men that if they were commanded to fire on the strikers it would be their duty to do so, in which case they should 'fire low and lay the disturbers of law and order out so that their duty would not have to be performed again!' Price's words were widely reported as a terse order to 'fire low and lay the bastards out', which not unnaturally enraged the unionists and earned the strong censure of Premier Duncan Gillies. A court of inquiry found no case against him. Price defended his action in later years, in 1906 offering the explanation that, but for the words 'lay them out', he had only been giving effect to the orders of the commandant, in accordance with Queen's regulations, for aim to be 'taken low, as at a man's knee' to minimize the risk of hitting vital spots.

In 1890 Price became a foundation member and council-member of the United Service Institution of Victoria. In March 1891 he accompanied a detachment of his regiment sent to compete in the Royal Military Tournament, Islington, London. On 1 June 1897 he was promoted colonel.

By 1899 the military effectiveness of his corps had declined, the lack of esprit de corps and poor physical standards becoming particularly evident early the next year during recruitment of a second Victorian contingent under Price's command for service in South Africa. On arriving at Cape Town in February 1900, the contingent was sent to defend Hanover Road. Price was placed at the head of an improvised force of British regulars and colonial irregulars—this separate command being an honour which, although brief in duration, was denied all other Australian officers throughout the war, and in which he took great pride.

During his time in South Africa Price saw much front-line work; twice he received bruises from shell-fire. He was appointed C.B. and mentioned in dispatches in April 1901. While on active service he added to his reputation as a colourful character. Urging his men to be patient with the problem caused by lice, he once declared 'Why … I'm lousy, the Padre's lousy, Lord Roberts is lousy, and the dear old Queen would be lousy too if she were here!'

He returned to Australia in December 1900 and next May took command of the mounted forces among the 14,000 troops assembled in Melbourne for the opening of the first Federal parliament. In March 1902 he was appointed acting commandant of the Commonwealth Military Forces in Victoria. On 30 April at Armadale, Melbourne, he married Emeline Shadforth, daughter of Robert Dyce Reid. In July he was transferred to command in Queensland and remained there until 1 August 1904 when, medically unfit, he retired from the army to live at Warrnambool, Victoria.

Price died at Warrnambool on 3 July 1911 and was buried with military honours in the family vault at Melbourne general cemetery, after a funeral attended by 'tens of thousands'. His wife, and three sons and a daughter of his first marriage, survived him. A portrait hangs in the Naval and Military Club, Melbourne. The eldest surviving son, Thomas Rose Caradoc Price, C.M.G., D.S.O. (1875-1949), became a brigadier in the British Army; Lieutenant-Commander Vivian Franklin Lyon Rose Price, R.N. (1881-1915), died on active service.

Judged 'an enthusiastic, capable and outspoken soldier' who was well-liked by his men, Price is principally remembered as a 'legendary scourge of striking unionists'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. La Nauze, Alfred Deakin (Melb, 1965)
  • G. R. Vazenry, Military Forces of Victoria, 1854-1967 (Melb, 1970?)
  • L. M. Field, The Forgotten War (Melb, 1979)
  • W. Calder, Heroes and Gentlemen (Melb, 1985)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1890, p 1935
  • Votes and Proceedings (Victoria), 1891, 5 (132), p 12
  • London Gazette, 16 Apr 1901
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28-30 Apr 1902, 11 Nov 1906, 4, 6 July 1911
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 July 1911
  • Bulletin (Sydney), 13 July 1911.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Price, Thomas Caradoc (1842–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/price-thomas-caradoc-8110/text14159, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 April 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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