Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas James Ewing (1813–1882)

by A. J. Hagger

This article was published:

Thomas James Ewing (1813?-1882), Church of England clergyman, was born in Devonshire, England. In 1831 he became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and in 1833 sailed for Hobart Town, arriving in November. In November 1837 at St David's Church he married Louisa Were; in May 1838, he was admitted to holy orders by Bishop William Grant Broughton and appointed next month to St George's, Battery Point, with a stipend of £200. In February 1840 he became chaplain of St John's, New Town, and headmaster of the Queen's Orphan Schools, two separate schools for boys and girls founded by Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur for the orphans and children of convicts. He was priested by Bishop Francis Nixon on 21 September 1843.

In 1841 reports that Ewing had been guilty of serious misconduct with one of the senior girls began to circulate among the pupils. These eventually reached the ears of the schools' surgeon, on whose advice Ewing asked the colonial secretary for an independent investigation. Captain Charles Swanston, one of the guardians of the schools, was asked to make the inquiry and in due course reported to the lieutenant-governor that, although Ewing was not guilty of criminal conduct, his imprudence was inconsistent with his position as headmaster. In January 1844 Ewing was notified that his two positions were to be separated, and that he was to continue as chaplain of St John's and act as chaplain to the schools but not as headmaster. In accepting this decision, Ewing inquired whether the lieutenant-governor was satisfied with the discharge of his duties as headmaster during the last five years and received a formal expression of satisfaction in reply.

On 7 January 1846 Ewing was granted leave to return to England to see his mother, and sailed with his wife and four children a few days later. In reporting the grant of leave to the Colonial Office, Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot stated that Ewing 'bears the highest character as a Clergyman and a Gentleman'. His leave was extended, and in April 1847 he wrote at length to the bishop of Tasmania about the deplorable state of the orphan schools. Among other things he claimed that, under his charge, the schools had been a credit to the colony and had been greatly admired by several distinguished visitors, and that he had been removed from the headmastership so that a position could be found for the commandant of Port Arthur whose health had failed. Ewing also offered to superintend the training of the Protestant children at the schools, in addition to his other duties, without any increase in salary.

This letter was forwarded by the bishop to the secretary of state, who sent it for comment to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison. Denison did not reply until September 1849, nearly two years after Ewing's return from leave. Denison admitted that the state of the schools was bad but claimed that, even so, they were better conducted than when Ewing was headmaster. While not denying Ewing's reason for his removal, which had been his predecessor's doing, he suggested that there were other causes, particularly the affair of 1841, in which Denison thought Ewing 'was very mildly dealt with'. Finally he rejected outright Ewing's offer to superintend the Protestant children on the ground that 'Mr Ewing is not in any way fitted for a situation of such importance, even were he free and untrammelled'.

Ewing remained chaplain of St John's until March 1863 when he was publicly farewelled and given a purse of forty-three sovereigns by parishioners and friends before his departure for England for eighteen months leave. At this farewell Ewing declared his intention to return to the colony, but he remained in England. In 1864 he received the degree of D.D. from the archbishop of Canterbury, and served as chaplain at Tattingstone, Suffolk, in 1868-70, and at Postwick, Norfolk, in 1876-82. He died at Plymouth, Devonshire, on 4 February 1882, aged 69.

Ewing had strong scientific interests, especially in ornithology. Two species of birds were named after him and some of his papers were published. These included 'A Catalogue of the Birds of Tasmania', and 'Migrating Caterpillar' (Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, 1842), 'List of the Birds of Tasmania', and 'On Silk Producing Moth' (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 1855, 1863). He was also something of a statistician. From official records he prepared 'Statistics of Tasmania, 1838-1841' (Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, 1846). This paper earned him the praise of the lieutenant-governor who offered to appoint him honorary statistician to the government in June 1841. Ewing accepted the post but apparently produced no more statistics.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under Ewing (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

A. J. Hagger, 'Ewing, Thomas James (1813–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Devon, England


4 February, 1882 (aged ~ 69)
Plymouth, Devon, England

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