Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Rowley (1747–1806)

by B. H. Fletcher

This article was published:

Thomas Rowley

Thomas Rowley

Thomas Rowley (1748?-1806), soldier and landholder, was appointed adjutant of the New South Wales Corps in 1789 and promoted lieutenant in April 1791. His background is unknown but the singularly poor grammar and spelling in his letters indicate that he could not have been well educated. He arrived at Port Jackson in 1792 and was promoted captain on 21 June 1796. He served in Sydney until 1799 when he left for a tour of duty at Norfolk Island. The premature departure of the commandant, Captain John Townson, in November obliged Rowley as the senior officer present to take charge of the island's affairs. His rule lasted until July 1800 and, according to his own account, was sufficiently creditable to earn the praise of the settlers and of Governor Philip Gidley King, though it involved him in severe and unexplained financial losses.

In 1802 he resigned his commission. He probably found it difficult to combine full military duties with his other pursuits, for he was one of those officers who had always sought to supplement their pay by other means. He set up his one-time servant Simeon Lord in business, and it is possible that he engaged in trade himself. Certainly he became a farmer after receiving his first grant in 1793. Thenceforth he accumulated land at a fairly steady rate, principally at Bankstown, Petersham and near Concord. In 1801-02 he bought livestock from Colonel Joseph Foveaux. By 1805 he owned 1975 acres (799 ha), which he used mainly for grazing 519 sheep. He owned some Spanish sheep acquired from Captain Henry Waterhouse but made no effort to breed from them; interested only in meat production, he paid no attention to wool-growing.

Rowley acquired most of his land during the King period, an era which appears to have been quite a happy one for him. He managed to avoid becoming involved in the recurrent quarrels between the governor and officers and seems to have lived on good terms with King. In October 1802 he was given responsibility for the management of the civil and military barracks and became captain of the Sydney company of the Loyal Association. He displayed an active interest in its work and in April 1804 was promoted commandant. In the same month he was sworn in as a magistrate. He died of consumption on 27 May 1806, leaving his property in trust for his three daughters, two sons, and Elizabeth Selwyn, a former convict who had arrived in the Pitt in February 1792 after being convicted at Gloucester, and who was the mother of four of these children.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 1-4
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-4
  • manuscript catalogue under Thomas Rowley (State Library of Victoria).

Additional Resources

Citation details

B. H. Fletcher, 'Rowley, Thomas (1747–1806)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 June 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

Thomas Rowley

Thomas Rowley

Life Summary [details]


12 December, 1747
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, England


27 May, 1806 (aged 58)
New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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