Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Bury (1838–1900)

by Joseph Jones

This article was published:

Thomas Bury (1838-1900), journalist (pseudonym 'Tom Touchstone'), was born on Christmas Day 1838 in Dublin, son of John Francis Bury, merchant, and his wife Rosanna, née Feelind. He was attracted to Australia by gold and left Britain in October 1854 in the Champion of the Seas, carrying 1100 passengers. On the voyage Bury wrote for the ship's paper, reputedly the first ever printed on a clipper ship. He settled in Victoria, working at various jobs, wood-splitting, fencing, prospecting, and sending occasional contributions to newspapers. His associations with the Ballarat Courier began in the late 1870s or early 1880s and continued through his final illness (he had suffered for a long time from dropsy and asthma), during which he was assisted by an amanuensis. His last column appeared three days before his death. A journalistic venture on his own, the Touchstone, began late in 1883 but lasted for only a few numbers.

A bachelor and in personal appearance not unlike the poet Browning, Bury long enjoyed the love of children and a reputation for geniality and public spirit. Largely at his instigation statues of Burns and other literary figures were erected in Ballarat in the 1880s. At his death on 6 November 1900 at Ballarat, the Courier recorded: 'He was esteemed by all sections of the community … and was indeed an institution in our midst'.

In his weekly 'Cornerisms' department of the Courier in 1882-1900 Bury offered paragraphs and short essays on a wide range of subjects: political on the Liberal side, social, religious and moral, artistic, literary. In fact as well as in name he was a 'touchstone' on current affairs and all kinds of cultural matters; he quoted extensively from both British and American writers of the day, and is to be credited with an early and abiding interest in Walt Whitman, transmitted to a young friend in Ballarat, Bernard O'Dowd, who on his first visit to Bury's quarters was delighted to find 'a room crammed from floor to ceiling with books, papers, and magazines, which were slopping over on to chairs and sofa'. As might be expected Bury took notice of current Australian works by writers such as Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, James Brunton Stephens and Marcus Clarke. In 1890-91 he reported on an extensive trip to Britain. Previously, until visiting the Adelaide Exhibition in 1887, he had not left Victoria since arriving there as a boy; but even a cursory glance through his columns reveals him as a man of intellectual amplitude by no means restricted by such close residence.

A portrait by 'Grant, 1893' is at the rooms of the Ballarat Historical Society.

Select Bibliography

  • V. Kennedy and N. Palmer, Bernard O'Dowd (Melb, 1954)
  • Ballarat Courier, 7 Nov 1900.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Joseph Jones, 'Bury, Thomas (1838–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Touchstone, Tom

25 December, 1838
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


6 November, 1900 (aged 61)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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