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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wells, Thomas (1787–1833)

by P. R. Eldershaw

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

Thomas Wells (c.1787-1833), clerk and writer, was convicted, probably of embezzlement, at the London Gaol Delivery on 3 April 1816 and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. He arrived in Sydney in the Sir William Bensley and went on to Hobart Town next year in the Cochin, the ship which brought the new lieutenant-governor, William Sorell. He served as Sorell's clerk throughout his governorship, a situation in which he enjoyed such confidence as to have custody of the convict indents and to make out occupation licences, but it was alleged that Wells was improperly favoured in the government meat contracts. He acquired sixty-five acres (26 ha) at New Town immediately on his arrival, and steadily added to it. He received a conditional pardon in 1818 and by 1819 had taken up land beyond New Norfolk and had begun breeding with merinos. At his main property, Allanvale, Macquarie Plains, his wool speculations failed and early in 1824 he was bankrupt. His efforts to recover failed, and in 1828 he was declared insolvent and committed to the debtors' prison. During his five years there he not only assailed the lieutenant-governor with petitions for relief, but set up as an accountant to such effect that he was said to have achieved considerable comfort for himself and his family, and to have paid off most of his creditors. On his release he briefly continued his business in Hobart until he joined the Cornwall Bank in Launceston as accountant. He died on 10 June 1833, probably from tetanus.

Wells's wife, Charlotte, and family had joined him from England in February 1818 and at the time of his death there were eleven children. The eldest, Samuel Pullen, went to Sydney to be educated under 'his relative', Samuel Marsden, but in 1834 was convicted of cattle stealing and transported for life to Port Arthur. Charlotte and a daughter were running a school at New Norfolk in 1842.

Thomas Wells's obituary in the Colonist, 18 June 1833, said that though industrious, he was 'luxurious and extravagant; very reserved, and in some measure haughty'. It also referred to his 'many able and beneficial articles' in the colonial press, and said he claimed to be the author of the 'Hermit of Van Diemen's Land' articles, in fact written by Henry Savery. Wells was later attributed as being the author of the first Tasmanian literary pamphlet, Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bush Rangers of Van Diemen's Land, printed by Andrew Bent in December 1818. This forty page rarity was reprinted in 1819, 1824, 1926, 1945 and in facsimile in 1926 for its curiosity value, but its literary merit is small.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 2-4
  • correspondence file under Thomas Wells (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

P. R. Eldershaw, 'Wells, Thomas (1787–1833)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

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