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Thomas George Rogers (1806–1903)

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Thomas George Rogers (1806-1903), religious instructor, was born probably in Dublin, the son of Thomas Rogers. He went to Trinity College, Dublin, in November 1823. About 1834 he had married Sarah Smyth, of Dublin. Finding his endowments too small for a growing family he accepted an offer by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to go to Norfolk Island as a religious instructor of convicts at a salary of £250 with a living allowance. He was appointed in November 1844 and given £125 by the society and £250 by the Colonial Office to take out his wife and six children, but left them in the care of the vicar of Halifax, promising to remit a third of his salary for their maintenance.

In the Bussorah Merchant Rogers arrived at Sydney in June 1845 and in July went on to Hobart, where Bishop Francis Nixon refused him a licence because religious instructors in the convict department were outside episcopal control. In September Rogers reached Norfolk Island, where the chaplains also maintained that he was in an unecclesiastical position, and the convicts soon discovered the anomaly. In October he complained to the commandant, Joseph Childs, that his duties were not clearly defined. Childs misunderstood the complaint and for months letters between the two men went back and forth each day, Childs insisting on discipline and Rogers professing increasing outrage at the inhumanity and irreligion of the commandant. In January 1846 Rogers proposed to report Childs to Nixon and the Colonial Office and in May asked for leave to put his case to the lieutenant-governor in Hobart. When refused he wrote to the superintendent of religious instructors, Archdeacon Fitzherbert Marriott, who assured him from Hobart that his complaints would be investigated. In August John Price replaced Childs as commandant. Rogers was soon in trouble and Price, in a 200-page dispatch on his misdemeanours, recommended his removal from the island. In Hobart the acting lieutenant-governor, Charles La Trobe, and the comptroller-general of convicts, John Hampton, agreed that Rogers should be recalled because 'he was deficient in temper and discretion'. He left Norfolk Island in February 1847.

In Hobart Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison refused to see him, wrote to London about his neglect of his family, and removed him from the convict department. Marriott was more sympathetic, offered him temporary curacies at New Norfolk and at Windermere near Launceston, but lost patience when Rogers stayed in Hobart, bombarding Denison and Downing Street with long rebuttals of Price's charges. When Bishop Nixon returned from England in 1848 Rogers was admitted to deacon's orders and went to Windermere. Publication at Launceston in April 1849 of Correspondence Relating to the Dismissal of the Rev. T. Rogers, from his Chaplaincy at Norfolk Island brought him angry reproof for daring to print official documents without government sanction. Unabashed, Rogers published in October a statement from his churchwardens, with laudatory testimonials from six Launceston citizens and from Fielding Browne who had witnessed the 'faithful, fearless, yet affectionate performance of his clerical duties' at Norfolk Island.

In December Rogers heard through the bishop that his wife had died in Dublin, her death hastened by the long silence of her husband who had sent only £75 in four years, and his six children left destitute. In January 1850 Rogers sought leave to return to Ireland for them and sailed in the Philip Oakden on 28 February, but friends had already subscribed to send them to Melbourne and according to family tradition he passed them on the way.

In London in July 1858 he gave evidence to the parliamentary committee on the petition of William Henry Barber, a wrongly convicted solicitor whom he had befriended on the island. Until 1860 Rogers's name remained in clergy lists as chaplain of Norfolk Island, but he became a Roman Catholic before he returned to Australia, where he worked as a tutor and under the name 'Peutetre' contributed many religious articles to the Advocate in Melbourne. He died at Malvern on 17 January 1903 aged 98.

Of his children, two daughters married at Launceston; a son, John William Foster, born at Leeds on 16 July 1842, was educated in Melbourne, had a school at Ballarat in 1870, became headmaster of the Melbourne Hebrew School in 1878 and was married at St Kilda in 1881.

Rogers's account of the evils of the Norfolk Island penal settlement may have helped to inspire the founding of the Anti-Transportation League at Launceston; it was given a much wider impact by Marcus Clarke, who with some fictional licence used him as the prototype of Rev. James North in For the Term of his Natural Life.

Select Bibliography

  • J. West, The History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Launceston, 1852), pp 299-302
  • J. V. Barry, The Life and Death of John Price (Melb, 1964)
  • T. Rogers, letter book, 1844-46 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • W. F. Rogers, Man's Inhumanity—Being a Chaplain's Chronicle of Norfolk Island in the 'Forties (State Library of New South Wales)
  • correspondence file under Thomas Rogers (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Rogers, Thomas George (1806–1903)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 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
  • Peutetre

Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


17 January, 1903 (aged ~ 97)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.