Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Cawker (1836–1926)

by Judith Murdoch

This article was published:

Thomas Cawker (1836-1926), coach driver and proprietor, was born on 14 February 1836 at Exbourne, near Okehampton, Devonshire, England, son of John Cawker, carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth, née Ward. He went with his family to Victoria where they settled at Queenscliff. At 17 he became a driver for T. Gibson who had the mail contract between Geelong and Hamilton. Later he drove for the Rutledge brothers from Hamilton to Streatham, for Currie & Shaw from Geelong to Port Fairy and on his own mail contract from Port Fairy to Ararat. For Cobb & Co. he drove the Geelong-Ballarat mail which was later extended to Hamilton and then to Mount Gambier, and continued the run when it was bought by the Western Stage Coach Co. When railway competition forced the company to discontinue several runs, Cawker contracted for the Mount Gambier mail run. He also operated the route from Mount Gambier to Tullich and later to Casterton, and started another from Port MacDonnell to Lacepede Bay and Naracoorte. In 1861 he had the line from Hamilton to Penola where he was licensee of the hotel in 1864.

Cawker was widely known throughout western Victoria and the south-east of South Australia where his compelling personality and complete lack of affectation provided a fund of stories. He drove many governors and distinguished people, but his most famous patrons were Prince George and Prince Albert who visited the area in June 1881. Cawker drove them from Hamilton to Naracoorte where at a long and tedious ceremony he was said to have leaned from the coach and tapped Prince George's shoulder, saying, 'Hop up, sonny, we can't keep the horses all day'. Impressed by his poise and lack of awe, the prince later asked for a turn at the reins; Cawker obliged but insisted that they were held properly. In 1901 when the Duke of York visited Australia he sent for Cawker and after some talk offered him a drink. As a total abstainer for over thirty years the veteran refused but was promised a welcome if ever he came to Buckingham Palace.

Cawker was a great horse lover, carefully tending his teams on unmade and difficult roads. From the 1860s he was also an owner-trainer and won many notable races including the Adelaide Grand National Hurdle in 1896. In 1915 he installed a motor service at Casterton but soon returned to his horse coaches and drove them until his contract ended in June 1926. He died at Casterton on 21 December, survived by his second wife Mary, née Cameron, a son and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Border Watch, 31 Mar 1915
  • Bulletin, 2 Apr 1915
  • Warrnambool Standard, 8 Jan 1918
  • Australasian, 13 Aug 1922
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 Dec 1926
  • N. Edgar, Thomas Cawker (Hamilton & Western District Historical Society, Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Judith Murdoch, 'Cawker, Thomas (1836–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 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]


14 February, 1836
Exbourne, Devon, England


21 December, 1926 (aged 90)
Casterton, Victoria, Australia

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