Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Druitt (1817–1891)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Thomas Druitt (1817-1891), Anglican clergyman and schoolmaster, was born on 21 October 1817 at Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, the third son of Robert Druitt (1784-1822), surgeon, and his wife Jane, daughter of Rev. James Mayo, headmaster of Wimborne Grammar School and later proprietor of the Cheam School. The Druitt and Mayo families had produced men of some professional distinction; Thomas's eldest brother, Robert (1814-1883), became a notable medical man and author of The Surgeon's Vade Mecum, which ran to twelve editions in 1839-87. Thomas was educated at Wimborne Grammar School and proved a good classical scholar; his father's early death probably hindered his chances of a university education. After some teaching experience, he went to Portugal to follow a commercial career and married in Lisbon on 14 August 1845 Helena Hediveges Clementina, daughter of William Purvis, a Scottish merchant and a descendant of the Portuguese navigator, Cabral. In 1847 they returned to England and in November sailed for Sydney.

Druitt was appointed second master of St James's Grammar School in June 1848, and his wife taught French and Portuguese. Druitt fulfilled an old ambition on 3 June 1849 when he was made deacon by Bishop William Broughton of Sydney; he was ordained priest by Broughton, in the presence of Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand, on 22 September 1850. He assisted at the services of St James's Church and took charge at St Bartholomew's, Pyrmont. He also acted as a Chaplain at Victoria Barracks and served as honorary secretary of the Destitute Children's Asylum and on the committee of the Sydney Female Refuge. He was interested in music and became secretary of the Sydney Choral Society. Energetic and capable, Druitt was determined from the time of his arrival to play a full part in the life of Sydney.

Druitt succeeded Rev. Thomas Wall Bodenham as headmaster at St James's and maintained a prosperous school, lodging many boarders at his home in Elizabeth Street. In 1854 he transferred temporarily to Parramatta as acting headmaster of The King's School. The arrangement whereby he took charge while his wife was matron was not defined clearly and the arrival of the new headmaster, Rev. Frederick Armitage, in 1855 led to misunderstanding. Druitt returned to his church and school and to charitable work in Sydney. The imminent opening of the Sydney Grammar School, with some government support, boded ill for St James's. Druitt's relations with the new bishop, Frederic Barker, became strained over The King's School controversy; he resigned from St James's and his other appointments at the end of 1856 and 'undertook the spiritual charge of the widely extended district of Cooma'.

In the Monaro district Druitt began his major work for the Church of England in the colony. He reported in 1866 that his parish covered '10,000 square miles (25,900 km²), inhabited by a sparse population, little educated and very unwilling to follow the teaching of a clergyman, and so situated that no assistance can be rendered to me, for during the ten years I have been here only three times has other voice than mine been heard from my pulpit'. In addition to Cooma, extensive out-stations and coastal areas had to be visited. Christ Church at Cooma, consecrated in 1850, was too remote to allow for a full range of services and Druitt held the evening service in the court-house until St Paul's Church was built. It was richly furnished and finally consecrated in 1872. He also built a new parsonage and school hall. His long incumbency was mostly a success and in his last years the work of the church in the Monaro was well organized.

A clergyman of strong opinions and emphatic actions, Druitt did not hesitate to remonstrate with the colonial secretary (who returned one letter as 'discreditable to yourself and disrespectful to the Government'), the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (whose accredited missionary he was) or the bishops of Sydney and Goulburn if their support for his work seemed inadequate. At the Sydney Church Conference in 1858 he opposed strongly Bishop Barker's policy of securing legislation for a diocesan synod; he was always a forceful speaker at the Goulburn and provincial synods. But Druitt rose steadily in the ranks of the church. He became a canon of St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn, in 1877 and archdeacon of the South Coast in 1884. Druitt left Cooma in 1890 and after brief charge of Murrumburrah retired to Sydney. He died at Petersham on 30 December 1891, survived by his wife, five sons and four married daughters. A memorial window is in St Paul's, Cooma. In 1936 the ruined Christ Church was restored as a memorial to Broughton, Rev. Edward Gifford Pryce, a pioneer of Anglican work in the Monaro, and Druitt.

Select Bibliography

  • C. H. Mayo, A Genealogical Account of the Mayo and Elton Families (Lond, 1908)
  • S. M. Johnstone, The History of The King's School, Parramatta (Syd, 1932)
  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937)
  • K. J. Cable, A Short Story of Historic St James', Sydney (Syd, 1964)
  • Church Sentinel, Nov-Dec 1858
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Dec 1856
  • C. V. Nathan, The Singing Surgeon, the Life of Dr Charles Nathan (privately held)
  • SPG in-letters, D.29 (SPG Archives, Westminster)
  • Colonial Secretary, clerical letters, vols 10-11 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Druitt, Thomas (1817–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 October, 1817
Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England


30 December, 1891 (aged 74)
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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