Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Pamphlett (1789–1838)

by J. H. Hornibrook

This article was published:

Thomas Pamphlett (1789?-1838), castaway, became a brickmaker at Manchester, England, and at 22 as James Groom was charged on 10 September 1810 at the Lancaster Assizes with stealing five pieces of woollen cloth and a bay mare in the County of Chester. He was found guilty and his death sentence was commuted to transportation for fourteen years. He arrived in Sydney in the Guildford in January 1812. In May 1814, for theft, he received 100 lashes and twelve months in irons in the gaol-gang, from which he absconded in October 1814 and May 1815. Subsequent good conduct earned him a conditional pardon on 31 January 1818.

In March 1823 with three other ticket-of-leave men, John Finnegan, Richard Parsons and John Thompson, he set out for the Five Islands (Illawarra) to cut cedar. Blown north by a storm in which Thompson died, the boat was wrecked on the outer shore of Moreton Island. After some hardships, mitigated by help from Aboriginals, they crossed to the mainland. Believing themselves south of Sydney they sought a northward route homewards. Aboriginals again helped them with food and directions and they soon came upon a large river (Brisbane). As it was too wide to cross they followed its banks upwards almost to the present site of Goodna. Finding a canoe they crossed the stream and returned along the opposite bank, again living with Aboriginals for some weeks.

In September 1823 Pamphlett and the Aboriginals attracted the attention of John Oxley, who was then exploring in the Mermaid for the site of a new penal settlement at Moreton Bay. Pamphlett was taken on board and next day Finnegan was also rescued. Parsons was not found until the next year. Oxley was interested to hear of the large river and, with Finnegan as his guide, explored it as far as the point reached by the castaways. Oxley then took the two men with him to Sydney.

On 11 October 1826 Pamphlett was found guilty of larceny and sent for seven years to Moreton Bay. His tales of his earlier life among the Aboriginals encouraged others, including Davis and David Bracewell to seek relief from the hardships of the settlement, but Pamphlett's own behaviour was exemplary except for one day's escape in January 1833, all the more surprising as his sentence had almost expired. He left Moreton Bay in April, and lived uneventfully until his death on 1 December 1838 at Penrith.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Field (ed), Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales (Lond, 1825)
  • H. S. Russell, The Genesis of Queensland (Syd, 1888)
  • E. S. Jackson, ‘Early Visitors to Moreton Bay’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 15, part 6, 1929, pp 309-23
  • C. G. Austin, ‘Newstead House and Capt. Wickham, R.N.’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 3, no 6, Dec 1947, pp 459-65
  • R. Cilento and C. L. Lack, ‘"Wild White Men" in Queensland’, Journal (Royal Historical Society of Queensland), vol 6, no 1, Sept 1959, pp 73-93.

Citation details

J. H. Hornibrook, 'Pamphlett, Thomas (1789–1838)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Groom, James
  • Groom, Thomas



1 December, 1838 (aged ~ 49)
Penrith, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 14 years