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Thomas Scott (1800–1855)

by G. H. Crawford

This article was published:

Thomas Scott (1800-1855), surveyor and landowner, was the son of George Scott of West Morriston, Earlston, Berwickshire, Scotland, and his wife Betty, née Pringle. After education as a surveyor he came to Hobart Town in 1820 in the Skelton and temporarily became superintendent of government stock. Next year he was appointed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie as assistant surveyor under the deputy surveyor general, George Evans. Scott was active in his profession and responsible for surveying much of the early settlements. Between 1822 and 1824 he explored parts of the east coast, laid out the town of Bothwell, and published his chart of Tasmania which showed much more detail than earlier maps. A variant entitled 'A Military Map' was prepared in 1826 but not published. During the 1820s he took up Mount Morriston at the Macquarie River near Ross, to which he and his brother George later added.

In 1824 Evans applied for permission to retire and Scott applied for the vacancy, but when Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling called at Hobart on his way to Sydney he appointed his brother-in-law, Edward Dumaresq, as acting surveyor general. Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur confirmed the appointment, but reported that he was satisfied with Scott's zeal and abilities and asked that his salary be increased. The Colonial Office then appointed Scott as surveyor-general, but Arthur changed his opinion of Scott's accuracy and honesty, partly because Roderic O'Connor refused to serve as a land commissioner under him. More important, Scott had become implicated in accusations against Evans, who had accepted bribes to measure holdings in excess of areas granted. In 1826 the Executive Council inquired into these charges and reported that both surveyors were at fault, but excused Scott for acquiescing in the errors of his senior officer. As a result George Frankland was appointed surveyor-general, Dumaresq acted as chief land commissioner and Scott continued as assistant surveyor.

In 1826 Scott took a party to Adventure Bay and South Cape to explore coal seams, but reported that the shaft and the road to the mine were too arduous undertakings. His party established friendly relations with the local Aboriginals. In 1828 he examined Port Arthur as a place for settlement. Next year he accompanied Arthur on a journey from Hobart to Mole Creek and through the Van Diemen's Land Co.'s land at Middlesex Plains, Surrey Hills, Hampshire Hills and Emu Bay. The company's proposed grants were based on Scott's map, but it misled the manager, Edward Curr, who deduced from it that the north-western country was isolated from other settlements by several days travel through impassable mountains.

In 1829 Captain Edward Boyd was appointed deputy surveyor-general, despite Scott's protests, but although still third in the department he was promoted senior assistant surveyor in 1830. In 1832 he became surveyor for the County of Cornwall. About this time he took up residence at Bowhill, Glen Dhu, Launceston; he also gave the town of Deloraine its name, taking it from the Lay of the Last Minstrel, by his kinsman, Sir Walter Scott. In the same year his plan of Launceston was published for the Hobart Town Almanac by James Ross. In 1833 Boyd was sent to Launceston to open a branch of the survey office and Scott was moved to George Town. In 1835 he married Ann Reid. Next year he obtained two years leave to visit Scotland, and arranged for his brother James to be his deputy, each to share equally his annual salary of £350. Soon after his return he resigned and devoted himself to his own land and business interests. On his death at Earlston in 1855 he had amassed a fortune estimated at £107,800.

James Scott (1810-1884) arrived in Hobart in the Ann Jamieson in 1832. He was trained as a surveyor by his brother Thomas and worked with him, and on his resignation in 1838 joined the staff of the Survey Department. The appointment was short-lived. Next year when contract surveying was introduced he was approved as a surveyor to be paid on piecework. Of strong physique and an excellent bushman, he became the chief surveyor in the north. In 1845 he married Agnes Mathie McGown, by whom he had eleven children. He made his home at Bowhill.

James Scott is best known for his explorations of the north-east. In April 1852 he was engaged by the government to find a bridle road for stock from the last settlement on St Patrick's River to Cape Portland, a vast area not previously crossed by white man. He went up St Patrick's River, passed north-west of Mount Maurice to what he thought was Forester's River, over a tier to the Ringarooma River, which he followed south-east of Mount Cameron to Cape Portland, and then returned to Launceston along the coast. He reported adversely: any track would be very costly and devoid of resting places for stock. He proposed instead a line by way of Piper's River, across the Little Forester about three miles (4.8 km) above Bowood and then north-east to the Tomahawk and Ringarooma Rivers. In October 1852 he marked out this road. Next January he applied for government assistance to open up a line of communication from St Patrick's River along his former route to the Ringarooma River. He was promised £40 for this task but declined on the ground of ill health and other business. However, both he and his brother George applied for land on the Ringarooma River at what is now Legerwood, and by November 1853 he reported that he had completed a bridle road and that the land supposed to be on the Great Forester's River was on the main branch of the Ringarooma River. A little later he found fertile land in the near-by Scottsdale district, which was named after him.

For most of the 1850s Scott was the only surveyor in Launceston. In 1853 the department ceased to give him work, but not for long as no other surveyors could be found. When again offered a government post he refused it and continued to work on contract. He did much of the early survey of Port Sorell and Devonport. When the lands of the Cressy Land Co. were broken up about 1854 he did the survey. He did not like 'teaching young men who might oppose me later', but in 1856 when Thomas's two sons arrived he trained the elder, James Reid Scott. After 1860 he restricted his activities as a surveyor. He owned many properties and an interest in a coal mine at the Don River, was a director of the British and Tasmanian Charcoal Iron Co., and a foundation director and later chairman of the Mutual Fire Insurance Co. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1862. He served on the Launceston City Council, and in 1879 was chairman of the Launceston General Hospital Board. For some years he was chairman of the Paterson's Plains Road Trust. Independent of any political party, he was a member of the House of Assembly for George Town in 1869-77 and for South Launceston from 1878 until his death in 1884.

Select Bibliography

  • Hobart Town Gazette, 22 Feb 1839
  • Examiner (Launceston), 3 July 1855
  • S. M. Franks, Land Exploration in Tasmania, 1824-42 (M.A. thesis, University of Tasmania, 1958)
  • GO 1/3/ 228 & 357, 1/5/402, 1/11/183, 1/29/57 & 148 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • GO 33/3/201 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSO 1 & 5 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • LSD 1 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Scott letters (Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. H. Crawford, 'Scott, Thomas (1800–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 May 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]




1855 (aged ~ 55)
Earlston, Tasmania, Australia

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