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Thomas Guthrie (1833–1928)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published:

Thomas Guthrie (1833-1928), pastoralist, was born on 25 April 1833 in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, the youngest son of David Guthrie, merchant, and his wife Agnes, née Gray. His father had business connexions in Hobart Town and Thomas joined his elder brother there in December 1847. He worked for some months on William Downie's sheep station near New Norfolk. In 1849 the brothers left for California with a cargo of wooden-frame houses. In Honolulu they learned that others had preceded them to San Francisco with similar cargoes so they sold their houses and returned to Port Phillip. In 1851 the brothers took livestock to Lyttelton, New Zealand, and survived shipwreck on the way back. Thomas became a gold buyer at the Forest Creek and Ballarat diggings. He bought gold for £2 7s. 6d. an ounce and then made the hazardous journey to Melbourne alone, selling the gold to Dalgety, Cruickshank & Co.

In 1854 Thomas went to Scotland and returned in 1855. In 1857 he joined George Synnot's stock, station and wool broking firm in Geelong. Guthrie was a brilliant auctioneer and in 1861 became a full partner. Synnot & Guthrie built stock saleyards on thirty-six acres (15 ha) of Drumcondra, Geelong, owned by Guthrie. They held weekly sales and with Charles Dennys were founders of the Geelong wool market. In 1860 Synnot & Guthrie acquired for £16,000 Quambatook run in the lower Avoca district. When the partnership dissolved in 1866 Guthrie kept Quambatook and retired from wool broking. His brother-in-law, Gideon Rutherford, became his partner and they improved Quambatook to carry 64,000 sheep. Mary Oliver, née Rutherford, whom Guthrie married on 15 September 1864, was a remarkable woman. When her first husband died in 1857 she bought Morambo and the adjoining Fairview. Her understanding of pastoral affairs was a great help to her husband in his adventurous enterprises. She died on 4 September 1916.

When Quambatook was opened for selection Guthrie secured only 1640 acres (664 ha). Rutherford withdrew from the partnership when the best of the run was taken by selectors. By buying out those who failed Guthrie gradually increased his freehold to 14,700 acres (5949 ha). At Rich Avon East, the leasehold of which he acquired in 1864, Guthrie bought 23,000 (9308 ha) of the original 40,000 acres (16,188 ha). His other properties were Rich Avon West, Avon Plains, Brim and Davis Plains in the Wimmera and Mount Muirhead, South Avenue, Mount Graham, Avenue Range and Woakwine in the south-east of South Australia. At Rich Avon Guthrie built up a merino stud with selected ewes from the Ercildoune stud and rams from Thomas Cumming's stud at Stony Point. Guthrie never stayed long at Rich Avon and in 1873 he installed a manager and moved his family to Geelong where the children could attend school. He leased the Hermitage which remained the Guthrie home for thirty years.

In 1882 Guthrie embarked on his most spectacular venture. At public auction he bought 1200 square miles (3108 km²) on the Barkly Tablelands, called the run Avon Downs, soon expanded it to 2300 square miles (5957 km²), and in the next three decades spent £100,000 on improvements and increased its carrying capacity from 14,500 to 70,000 merinos. Some of the sheep were overlanded from Rich Avon, a grave error which Guthrie soon realized because of the distance to travel. He managed the station mostly from Victoria and was probably the first to run large numbers of sheep in the Northern Territory. His wool was carted 200 miles (322 km) to Burketown and shipped to England; he once topped the London market with scoured merino wool from Avon Downs. The station also carried 400 horses and 9000 Shorthorn cattle, which later replaced the sheep entirely. He erected the first forty-seven miles (76 km) of telephone line in the territory and claimed to be the first to bore for subterranean water there. By his drive and interest the Camooweal Hospital was established.

Guthrie was a sturdy Scot with a magnificent physique and constitution. Although primarily a businessman he loved the hardship and excitement of pioneering and left the management of his Victoria and South Australian properties, much reduced by closer settlement, to his sons while he opened up new areas. He died on 18 October 1928 at South Yarra, survived by five of his six children. His sons were Thomas Oliver, of Rich Avon; Arthur Donaldson, station manager; and James Francis, senator.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 2 (Melb, 1904)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Australian Families, vol 1 (Melb, 1941)
  • C. E. Sayers, Shanty at the Bridge: The Story of Donald (Donald, 1963)
  • 'Neglected Australia: The Northern Territory Capable of Carrying Millions of Sheep and Producing Splendid Merino Wool', Pastoralists' Review, vol 19, no 12, Feb 1910, pp 1283-85
  • 'Obituary: Thomas Guthrie', Pastoral Review, vol 38, no 11, Nov 1928, p 1103
  • Mount Wycheproof Ensign, 2 Nov 1928.

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Guthrie, Thomas (1833–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 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]


25 April, 1833
Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland


18 October, 1928 (aged 95)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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