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Thompson, Andrew (1773–1810)

by J. V. Byrnes

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

Andrew Thompson (1773?-1810), chief constable, farmer and businessman, was baptized on 7 February 1773 at Kirk Yetholm, Scotland, the youngest of six children of John Thompson, weaver, manufacturer and dyer, and his wife Agnes, née Hilson. Educated at the parochial school, he entered his father's business until a breakdown in health forced him to leave and study for the excise. With a friend he became involved in the theft of about £10 worth of cloth from the shop of a local merchant; he pleaded guilty at his trial at Jedburgh in 1790, but was probably the less guilty party. He was sentenced to fourteen years transportation and arrived in Sydney in the Pitt in February 1792.

After a year in the men's provision store he joined the police force in 1793 and served with distinction at Toongabbie and other centres. In 1796 Governor John Hunter appointed him to the Green Hills (Windsor), the main settlement on the Hawkesbury River, where he remained for the rest of his life. He was pardoned in 1798 and built his home overlooking the river on an acre (0.4 ha) leased from the government. He rose quickly to the position of chief constable and held that office until 1808, during which time he distinguished himself by investigating crimes, capturing runaway convicts, acting as intermediary between whites and blacks and rescuing settlers from disastrous floods. Hunter appointed him to the responsible position of grain assessor in 1799, and the settlers elected him as trustee of the common lands in the district.

As he carried out his constabulary duties Thompson gradually accumulated land by both purchase and grant. He bought the farms West Hill (the Red House), Glasgow, Wardle Bank and Moxham's Farms, and Governor Philip Gidley King granted him Agnes Bank and Killarney, totalling 918 acres (372 ha) altogether. He rented them to suitable tenants. At his home on the river Thompson, with the aid of an English agent, John Braddick, established a general store and later an inn which became the commercial centre of the Hawkesbury. Near by on the South Creek he built the first toll bridge in 1802. King supplied convict labour to help him and then gave him a lease of the tolls until 1820. In 1804 King helped him to set up a salt manufacturing plant in Broken Bay. The first site was Mullet Island but Thompson later moved it to Scotland Island. Because of Thompson's outstanding work in the floods of 1806 King allowed him to establish a brewery on South Creek. In addition Thompson controlled a barge for ferrying passengers and stock across the river, and at the Red House he established a tannery.

Over the same period to 1808, Thompson built four ships: Nancy, Hope, Hawkesbury and Governor Bligh. He also bought the Speedwell from Captain Grono. These ships carried grain, fruit and vegetables to Sydney, transported convicts to the Hunter River and returned with cargoes of cedar and coal; they made sealing voyages to Bass Strait and New Zealand and traded with Tahiti for pork. The Nancy placed Thompson's name on the map of the South Island of New Zealand.

When Governor William Bligh arrived in 1806 Thompson was the largest grain grower and the wealthiest settler in the colony. As the economy of the colony was based on grain there was great significance in the claim which John Macarthur made on Thompson for £341 10s. based on a note of hand for ninety-nine bushels of wheat and valued before the 1806 floods at £34 10s. Macarthur claimed the grain at the inflated price and lost the case. A later appeal to Bligh was dismissed.

Bligh bought two farms on the Hawkesbury and appointed Thompson to develop them as model farms, to encourage the settlers to follow his example. Bligh supplied convict labour and Thompson appointed the overseer. Thompson forwarded monthly accounts to Bligh and these reports showed that Bligh was using government stock and that Thompson was placing the grain in the stores under his own name. There was a break in their friendship in 1808 when Thompson was fined £100 for misusing a puncheon of rum entrusted by Bligh to his care for distribution to the settlers. Bligh was arrested soon afterwards and the rebels seized Thompson's accounts of the model farm and sent them to London as alleged proof of Bligh's intention to rob the government, but at the court martial of Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston in London in 1811 the accounts were not produced as evidence against the ex-governor.

Under the rebel regime Thompson continued to prosper. He was dismissed from his position as chief constable and for the next two years devoted himself to his own concerns. Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Foveaux gave him a town grant in Macquarie Place where he built a gentleman's town house which was later to be occupied by Ellis Bent. After the devastating floods of 1809 Lieutenant-Governor Paterson rewarded him with a 1000-acre (405 ha) grant at Minto which he named St Andrew's. Previous leases of land on which he had erected his brewery and salt works were converted into grants. All these grants were later approved by Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

When Macquarie arrived in 1810 Thompson was in poor health as a result of effects of cold and immersion in the 1809 floods. However, Macquarie restored him to favour and appointed him magistrate at the Green Hills, the first emancipist to be appointed to such a position. Thompson, Simeon Lord and Samuel Marsden were then appointed trustees of the new turnpike road between Parramatta and the Hawkesbury, but Marsden refused to act with them on the grounds that they were immoral, thus striking the first blow in the fight against Macquarie's emancipist policy. Thompson's health declined rapidly and he died, still a bachelor, at his home on 22 October 1810, Macquarie's 'worthy and highly esteemed good friend … from whose superior local knowledge and good sound sense and the judicious advice', the governor had hoped to 'derive great benefit and advantage'. Thompson left a quarter of his real and personal estate to Macquarie, who estimated that his share would be about £5000. Captain Henry Antill was appointed executor, together with Thomas Moore. Antill selected the site for Thompson's grave and the burial took place according to the Church of England rites.

Thompson's estate was managed by his executors until it became apparent that none of his Scottish legatees intended to claim a share. The buildings at his home on the Hawkesbury River were bought by the government. The granary was bought for £1500, and the brewery, after causing a quarrel with George Palmer, was converted into a hospital. Alexander Riley and Richard Jones gave evidence about the administration of the Thompson estate in London in 1819, and Commissioner John Thomas Bigge made Thompson and his estate one of the chief subjects of his investigation of Macquarie's administration. Thompson's elevation to the magistracy was a feature of his report, whilst Bigge's conclusions about the administration of the estate were sent to Bathurst in a private letter on 7 February 1823. The executors' accounts have not come to light.

Thompson's life and work in New South Wales and the administration of his estate illuminate many aspects of life in early Australian history. His swift rise to wealth illustrates the government attitude towards emancipists from the beginning; his activities prove the importance of grain as a basis of the economy until it was replaced by wool; his enterprises show him to have been a powerful influence in the development of industry and commerce; his association with Bligh points to the exceptional prosperity of Bligh's farm as one important reason for Bligh's arrest; whilst his appointment to the magistracy became a lever for Macquarie's enemies in their attempts to have the governor removed.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 3-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 2-7
  • J. V. Byrnes, ‘Andrew Thompson, 1773-1810: Part 1-to the Arrival of Macquarie’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 48, part 2, 1962, pp 105-41 and 'Part 2-Macquarie and the Thompson Legacy', vol 48, part 3, 1962, pp 161-207
  • J. V. Byrnes, The Life and Times of Andrew Thompson (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1958).

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Citation details

J. V. Byrnes, 'Thompson, Andrew (1773–1810)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thompson-andrew-2728/text3847, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 July 2014.

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

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