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Tom, William (1791–1883)

by Gavin Long

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

William Tom (1791-1883), farmer and Methodist leader, was born on 25 May 1791 on a farm at Blisland, Cornwall, England. In December 1817 he married Ann Lane (1796-1870) and in 1823 he and his wife, three children and a nephew, with his brother-in-law William Lane and his wife and two children, sailed in the Betty Ann to Sydney where they arrived in the Jupiter in November.

After a few months at Parramatta Tom obtained a grant at Tarana, but he found that the trees were hard to burn and moved to Sidmouth Valley and thence to Wallaroi, near Bathurst, where he managed for John Hassall. When the country west of the Macquarie River was opened for settlement he and his two elder sons, now hardy and self-reliant bush boys, went exploring and found good land eleven miles (18 km) east of Orange. There in 1830 he took up land which he named Springfield, and it was granted to him six years later with additional leasehold. William Lane also took up land not far away at Orton Park, which he named after Rev. Joseph Orton.

At Springfield Tom first built a lath and plaster house of four rooms, with a loft for the boys and their tutor, George Hawke. In the early 1830s he was joined by other Wesleyans from Cornwall: two brothers of William Lane, and John Glasson; other Glassons followed later. The district was named the Cornish Settlement. Its religious leader was 'Parson' Tom, as he was known far and wide. Until 1842, when a solid and elaborate little steepled stone church was built by the Cornishmen who were skilled stonemasons, Tom conducted services on Bethel Rock. Orton visited them in 1832 and appointed Tom leader of the first Methodist class west of the mountains. Tom preached as far afield as Molong, at the home of his daughter Mary, who in 1842 had married John Smith (1811-1895), a Cornishman, landowner and later member of the Legislative Council.

During a visit in 1834 Orton discussed with Tom, Lane, Hawke and John Glasson the appointment of a minister and erection of a chapel at Bathurst, and in May 1836 Rev. Frederick Lewis arrived, the first resident Methodist minister west of the mountains; a chapel was opened at Bathurst in 1837.

In the early 1840s the older ones among William Tom's hardy sons, now eight in number, the youngest named Wesley, began droving stock west and south-west. John (1820-1895) and William (1823-1904) drove cattle to Gippsland and took up a run known as Tom's Camp. In 1847 Henry (1827-1896) and Nicholas (1829-1888) bought cattle at Mudgee to drove to Adelaide but met James Tyson, who persuaded them to squat at Booligal, where they remained in occupation with their father as a partner until 1858 when they sold out for £25,000. At various times the brothers also held Tom's Lake, Borambil, Huntawong, Gunningbland, Wilga and Cowl-Cowl.

In November 1847 William Tom laid the foundation stone of a fine two-storied house at Springfield. There in 1851 came Edward Hargraves who explained to the Toms how to make a cradle; after he left William Tom built a cradle and with his brothers James and Henry worked along the creek, eventually washing sixteen grains of gold in one day. Soon afterwards William Tom and J. H. A. Lister found nuggets totalling four ounces and wrote to Hargraves who hastened back to the field, which was named Ophir. The gold rush followed.

Ann Tom died on 10 October 1870 and William Tom at Springfield on 28 September 1883. In addition to eight sons they left five daughters. Selina (1835-1929) married Edmund Webb (1830-1899) a Cornishman and pioneer merchant of Bathurst, Annie (1840-1872) married Gustavus Glasson.

William Tom lacked the business acumen that enabled other Cornish farmers, including two sons-in-law, to make fortunes in the west in his lifetime. He was a patriarch who won in the new land what he wanted: sturdy children, a house of stone, with his land and flocks around, and a following of devoted Christians. A tablet on Bethel Rock commemorates 'the service rendered to the early Methodist Church by William (Parson) Tom 1830-1883'. Another enduring monument, unveiled at Ophir in 1923, bears an inscription recording the parts played by Hargraves, the Toms and Lister in the discovery of payable gold.

Select Bibliography

  • W. H. Webb, The Life of the Late William Tom (Syd, 1922)
  • W. R. Glasson, Early Western Glimpses (Molong, 1933)
  • E. G. Clancy, More Precious Than Gold (Orange, 1960)
  • K. R. Cramp, ‘Who First Discovered Payable Gold in Australia: A Critical Analysis of the Evidence Before the Select Committees of 1853 and 1890?’ Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 33, part 5, 1947, pp 265-96
  • Tom family Bible (Methodist Church, Orange).

Citation details

Gavin Long, 'Tom, William (1791–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tom-william-2737/text3867, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 April 2014.

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

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