Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Blackman, Thomas Henry (c. 1843–1920)

by Michelle Flynn and Philippa Scarlett

This article was published:

View Previous Version

Thomas Blackman, n.d.

Thomas Blackman, n.d.

family photograph

Thomas Henry Blackman (c. 1843–1920), rural labourer, farmer, and bushrangers’ associate, also known as Captain Blackman, was born in the early 1840s at Cooyal, near Mudgee, New South Wales, only child of Thomas Harley Blackman, farmer, and Mary Ann, a Gamilaroi (Gamilaraay/Kamilaroi) woman. Thomas Henry’s grandfather, James Blackman, was an early Cooyal landholder. From early childhood Thomas Henry lived with his uncle and aunt, Henry James and Elizabeth Blackman, owners of the Cooyal Inn and station of the same name. His mother may have died or disappeared when he was young, as his father subsequently formed a relationship with another Aboriginal woman, Brigid, whose four children, Euphemia, Louisa, Albert Elwin, and John, were born between c. 1845 and 1852.

Living with his aunt and her second husband John Garbutt, a convicted thief, exposed Blackman to a network of horse, cattle, and sheep rustlers who operated in the area during the l850s and early 1860s. His close connection with members of this group is documented in reports of their interactions with the law in Mudgee and Cooyal. Elizabeth Blackman had initially employed cattle thief Fred Ward (later known as ‘Captain Thunderbolt’) and his nephew and partner in crime, John Garbutt, after their release from Cockatoo Island in mid-1860. Widowed since 1855, she married Garbutt later that year. She was also the first cousin of bushranger Henry Readford (the inspiration for ‘Captain Starlight’ in Rolf Boldrewood’s book Robbery under Arms) who operated in the Mudgee region, and was connected to yet another bushranger Tom Dillon whose hideout, known as Dillon’s cave, was in the same locality as her run. Dillon’s career ended with his capture in 1863, immediately after Blackman’s father, who also had a reputation as a horse and cattle thief, had given him shelter. In February 1861, after falling out with Garbutt, Thomas Henry Blackman sought refuge with Ward at Stoney Creek, indicating his familiarity with the soon to be notorious bushranger.

Although there is no direct evidence that Blackman participated in the crimes of the bushrangers he associated with, it seems likely that he was party to some of their activities. Henry Lawson, who lived in the Mudgee area as a youth, linked a fictional Tom Blackman’s unnamed son to a Mudgee bushranging gang in his poem ‘Trooper Campbell,’ leading to speculation that Thomas Henry Blackman was a member of Dillon’s gang. Significantly, by the age of eighteen, the powerfully built and quick-witted young man had acquired the title ‘Captain,’ a name popular with bushrangers.

Blackman’s association with the Mudgee-based bushrangers and their friends and relatives did not last. Although he was a witness for the defence at his father’s trial for cattle theft in March 1861, in July that year he appeared for the prosecution in John Garbutt’s trial for sheep stealing, confirming his rift with Garbutt. This was followed by the departure of the major players from the Cooyal area. By 1863 Dillon had been captured and Ward and Garbutt were again in prison on Cockatoo Island. Only Readford was still at large, but he too would later face cattle stealing charges.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it was at this point that Blackman’s life took a new direction. On 10 February 1864, at the Wesleyan parsonage, Mudgee, he married Ann McMahon, a non-Aboriginal woman and servant, and moved to Binnaway. He worked first at Rampadale station before farming his own selection, Glenalvon, for over fifty years. Few records of his life at Binnaway exist, but those that do suggest he was a trusted and valued member of the community. His standing with local business owners, the McWhirters, is reflected in a photograph of their extended family taken c. 1885, which includes him nursing young Billie McWhirter. Twenty years later, when the Binnaway Australian Bank of Commerce opened in 1914, Blackman was one of its first customers, suggesting some material success. In later life he cut a dapper, prosperous-looking figure in a three-piece suit. Remembered as being of a ‘kindly, cheerful disposition,’ by the end of his life he was praised as being ‘widely known and highly respected’ (Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative 1920, 8). He died suddenly at his home on 10 July 1920 after suffering an aneurism. Predeceased by a daughter and a son, and survived by his wife, seven daughters, and three sons, he was buried in Binnaway cemetery.

During his life Blackman showed himself able to live without penalty within the white criminal world and successfully in a settler farming community, giving him the unlikely distinction of being linked to two foundation stories of Australian history: bushranging and living and working on the land. While neither is unique to Aboriginal people—for example, the bushrangers, Jimmy Governor and Musquito, and the farmers, John and Percival Moseley—they are rare in combination. This gives added significance to his story, one which is a source of pride for his descendants, many of whom live in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Alf Stafford, a confidant and driver to eleven Australian prime ministers, was his grandson. Four other grandsons, Charles Fitzroy Stafford (1899–1954), John Harold Stafford (1897–1929), Clyde Gilford Ortley Stafford (1894–1947), and Ernest John Blackman (1898–1965), served in World War I and are represented on the cenotaph at Binnaway.

 

Michelle Flynn is a great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Henry Blackman. She is of Gamilaroi, Darug, English, and Irish descent. She was born on Ngunnawal land and was living on Ngunnawal land when she wrote this entry.

Philippa Scarlett is of Scottish, English, and Irish descent. She was born on Gadigal land and was living on Ngunnawal land when she wrote this entry.

 

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Baxter, Carol. ‘Analysis: Who Was Mrs Garbutt of Cooyal?’ 2011. Accessed 15 September 2020. http://www.thunderboltbushranger.com.au/analysis-mrs-garbutt-of-cooyal.html. Copy held on IADB file
  • Curran, Robert. ‘Captain Blackman’s Not So Good Year of 1861.’ Last modified 5 June 2019. Accessed 6 August 2020. https://borclaud.wordpress.com/. Copy held on IADB file
  • Flynn, Michelle. Unpublished research into Thomas Harley Blackman and the Blackman family
  • Flynn, Michelle, and Philippa Scarlett. ‘Unpacking Alf’s Cricket Case: The Stafford Family and World War I.’ 15 June 2019. Accessed 22 July 2021. https://indigenoushistories.com/2019/06/17/unpacking-alfs-cricket-case-the-stafford-family-and-world-war-1/
  • Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW). ‘Binnaway. Death of Mr Thomas Blackman.’ 29 July 1920, 8
  • New South Wales State Archives. NRS 905, NSW Colonial Secretary's Correspondence: Letters received, 61/3928 [4/3480]

Additional Resources

  • obituary, Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW), 29 July 1920, p 8

Citation details

Michelle Flynn and Philippa Scarlett, 'Blackman, Thomas Henry (c. 1843–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blackman-thomas-henry-30507/text37825, published first in hardcopy 2021, accessed online 17 September 2021.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2021

Thomas Blackman, n.d.

Thomas Blackman, n.d.

family photograph

More images

pic