Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Evan Henry Thomas (c. 1801–1837)

by E. Flinn

This article was published:

Evan Henry Thomas (1801?-1837), editor and lawyer, was born in Antrim, Ireland. He arrived in Hobart Town in August 1822 in the William Shand. His first year was spent variously as teacher, as an agent to assist clients through minor legal difficulties, as a dealer in property, as an innkeeper and as a pastry manufacturer. His poems, a 'Sonnet', unsigned, and 'The emigrant', by E. H. T., in the Hobart Town Gazette, 12 and 19 October 1822, were the first to appear in print in Van Diemen's Land.

In June 1824 Andrew Bent appointed Thomas editor of the Hobart Town Gazette without the sanction of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur. Thomas's editorials expounded his ideals of a free press and of a colony of free settlers instead of convicts. When Arthur claimed that the Hobart Town Gazette was government property Thomas was sent to Sydney to represent Bent before Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. Brisbane's verdict was in favour of Bent. On his return to Hobart, Thomas's editorial on 8 October 1824, known as the Gideonite article, openly criticized the government. The attorney-general, Joseph Tice Gellibrand, declared this article libellous, but for six months Arthur delayed proceedings against Bent as proprietor of the newspaper. When the trial took place in July and August 1825, Thomas had already resigned as editor of the Gazette. When called as a witness he affirmed full responsibility for the Gideonite article and other editorials, but Bent was found guilty by the military jury.

The Albion Hotel, which belonged to his wife before her marriage, was sold in May 1827, and Thomas moved with his family to Launceston where he became a commission agent and auctioneer at the Albion mart. He visited England between March 1830 and June 1831 to settle his share in an inherited estate and on his return to Launceston announced his appointment as a notary public and conveyancer for Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales. He practised as an attorney before the bench of magistrates and at the Quarter Sessions in Launceston.

Thomas supported the Launceston amateur dramatic association and on 14 October 1835 the Cameron company successfully produced his three-act play the Bandit of the Rhine in the Launceston theatre. This was the first original single play to be wholly written and published in Australia, although no copies of the publication have survived. The play was staged in the Theatre Royal, Hobart, on 22 October 1836. Thomas planned another romantic play, the 'Rose of the Wilderness, or Emily the Maniac', but it was never written. While in Launceston Thomas took little part in politics. As editor of the Hobart Town Gazette he encouraged literary writings although his own poems were neither distinctive nor inspiring. His prose works were more successful. It has been suggested that Thomas was connected with the satire The Van Diemen's Land Warriors … written anonymously by Pindar Juvenal and printed by Bent in 1827.

Thomas died on 26 December 1837 aged 36 and was buried in the old Cyprus Street cemetery, Launceston. In May 1823 he had married Sarah, née Divine, the widow, first of William Wilson, and then of Richard Wallis, licensee of the Cat and Fiddle Hotel, Hobart. A daughter was born in March 1824, and a son, James Montgomery, in July 1828.

Select Bibliography

  • R. W. Giblin, The Early History of Tasmania, vol 2 (Lond, 1939)
  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952)
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 24 Aug, 23 Nov, 21 Dec 1822, 10 May, 6 Sept 1823, 18 June, 2 July 1825, 18 Nov 1826
  • Colonial Times (Hobart), 24 Mar 1826, 6 Dec 1828
  • Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 8 Aug, 3, 17 Oct 1835
  • Bent's News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register, 30 Dec 1837
  • CSO 1/170/4096, 1/190/4523 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

E. Flinn, 'Thomas, Evan Henry (c. 1801–1837)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 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

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • E.H.T.

c. 1801
Antrim, Ireland


26 December, 1837 (aged ~ 36)
Tasmania, Australia

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