Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Lyell Seymour-Symers (1797–1884)

by Rhoda Glover

This article was published:

Thomas Lyell Seymour-Symers (1797-1884), sea-trader, generally known as Symers, was born in Brechin, Scotland, the eldest son of Thomas Seymour-Symers, Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Clementine, the daughter of James Carnegie, a younger son of the Earl of Southesk. Educated by his father, he entered the East India Co.'s service and was second mate in the Blenden Hall in 1821 when wrecked on Inaccessible Island in the South Atlantic. Later at Coringa in India he built the Caledonia in which he traded between India, China and Australian ports, and explored the southern coast of Australia for harbours. In 1830 he married Mary Johnstone, a Madras banker's daughter.

Four years later he settled in Albany, Western Australia. There he explored, inaugurated the first regular shipping service, and imported cattle and horses from India and sheep from Van Diemen's Land. On a trading voyage to Sydney in 1840 he became involved with the French whaler La Ville de Bordeaux; its seizure by Robert Richard Torrens in Adelaide, for a suspected breach of the navigation laws, caused years of litigation and Symer's bankruptcy. Losing the Caledonia for debt, Symers returned to Albany, determined to mend his fortunes and seek 'justice'. With his family's help he made money, but was permanently soured by a final, no-claim French court decision concerning La Ville de Bordeaux. Perforce now a land-lubber, he stood for the Town Trust and took active, and sometimes violent, part in such local affairs as the harbour, roads, timber industry, whaling and copper-mining. He died at Albany on 23 November 1884. He had four sons and three daughters. A dynamic, wide-visioned, controversial, aggressive figure, his papers and family records tell the progressive, pioneering story of Albany district.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Glover, ‘Captain Symers at Albany’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), vol 4, part 5, 1953, pp 74-93
  • R. Glover, Captain Symers, Trader (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1952), and for bibliography
  • Symers collection, family papers and documents, 1821-75 (State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • papers relating to the seizure of La Ville de Bordeaux (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Rhoda Glover, 'Seymour-Symers, Thomas Lyell (1797–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 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]

Alternative Names
  • Symers, Thomas Lyell

Brechin, Forfarshire, Scotland


23 November, 1884 (aged ~ 87)
Albany, Western Australia, 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.