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Scott, Thomas Alison (1777–1881)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Thomas Alison Scott (1777?-1881), pioneer sugar grower, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of Thomas Scott, merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Rhodey. He claimed to be the brother of Admiral Sir James Scott. He was first sent to his uncle Thomas Rhodey, a merchant and insurance broker of Liverpool, for training in business, and was then taken to St Thomas in the West Indies by Sir James Bonstein, who procured the appointment of customs searcher and waiter for him. In 1797 he went to Antigua where he managed his father's estate for several years. After visiting sugar plantations in Louisiana he called at Sydney about 1816 on his way to Calcutta. Impressed with the potential of New South Wales for sugar growing, Scott decided to stay.

In 1820 he went to Tahiti to establish a sugar plantation, having been engaged by Edward Eagar, but stayed only a few months because the necessary machinery was at Raiatea. He was then asked by Rev. John Williams to establish sugar production at Raiatea in 1822; for this he was paid by the London Missionary Society. Major Frederick Goulburn learnt of his success there and in December 1823 engaged him to grow sugar and tobacco at Port Macquarie, at a salary of £250. The sugar he produced there in 1824 appears to have been the first in Australia, and large quantities of his sugar and tobacco were sold at the commissariat store in Sydney. The venture was not an unqualified success, for in 1825 Scott was suspended, and a commission of inquiry in 1828 commented unfavourably on his work. Governor Darling reported in 1830 that before the commission was set up Scott had been found unqualified for the management of such an establishment, and he had subsequently been dismissed and the production of sugar abandoned because no one could replace him.

Scott received an order for a land grant of 1280 acres (518 ha), but exchanged it for 320 acres (129 ha) which he considered highly suitable for sugar growing, only to find it had been set aside for the township of Gosford. He was allowed to retain 25 acres (10 ha) and select another 640 acres (259 ha) elsewhere. In 1837 he applied without success for compensation for the loss he claimed to have sustained in this transfer. On his land, which he named Point Clare, Scott established a model sugar plantation, but he lacked the capital to buy the machinery needed for commercial success. He supplemented his income by government employment, being postmaster at Brisbane Water in 1836-40, clerk of petty sessions in 1836-43 on a salary of £100, and also poundkeeper and coroner for a time. He raised tobacco and bananas, for which he won prizes at the Floral and Horticultural Society shows in 1840 and 1841.

For many years Scott carried on a vigorous campaign for the introduction of sugar on a commercial basis in the colony. He later claimed to have directly influenced the beginnings of the industry at Kiama and on the Manning River, and to have supplied Captain Louis Hope, who began sugar growing in Queensland, with plants and instructions. He exhibited sugar at the Melbourne and Paris Exhibitions. In 1866 he petitioned the Legislative Assembly for a reward for his public services and his case was taken up by Rev. John Dunmore Lang. A select committee was formed in 1869 to decide his case, and Scott gave evidence of his pioneering work carried out at a financial loss. Many of his claims were denied by Rev. Edward Holland, who also claimed to have pioneered the industry, but the committee nevertheless agreed to Lang's motion to present Scott with a gratuity of £1000. He was eventually granted a pension of £240 instead, much to his disappointment, for he feared his family would soon be left destitute.

Scott married Mary Anne Crone of Port Macquarie on 17 December 1827 at Scots Church, Sydney; they had seven daughters and five sons. He died at Point Clare on 16 October 1881, aged 105, and was buried at Point Frederick. Mary Anne Scott died on 19 August 1905, aged 94.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 15, 19
  • C. Swancott, The Brisbane Water Story, vol 4 (Woy Woy, 1955)
  • A. G. Lowndes, South Pacific Enterprise (Syd, 1956)
  • J. Jervis, ‘T. A. Scott and the Genesis of the Sugar Industry’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 26 (1940)
  • Sydney Gazette, 25 Aug 1821
  • manuscript catalogue under Thomas Alison Scott (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Scott, Thomas Alison (1777–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scott-thomas-alison-2644/text3677, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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