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Samuel Tomkinson (1816–1900)

by Eric Richards

This article was published:

Samuel Tomkinson, by Walter Scott-Barry, c.1895

Samuel Tomkinson, by Walter Scott-Barry, c.1895

State Library of South Australia, B 5569

Samuel Tomkinson (1816-1900), banker, was born on 25 April 1816 at Wrexham, Denbighshire, North Wales, son of Charles Tomkinson, grocer, and his wife Elizabeth. Educated at a private boarding-school in that county, at 12 he was apprenticed for seven years to an East Indian merchant in Liverpool. From 1836 to 1850 he was employed by the North and South Wales Bank. He became involved in Liverpool politics after the death of William Huskisson and is said to have been associated with John Bright and Richard Cobden in the campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws.

Tomkinson arrived in Sydney in 1850 as an employee of the Bank of Australasia. Within a few months he travelled to Adelaide and in March 1852 he succeeded Marshall MacDermott as manager at the height of the bullion crisis. He immediately challenged the wisdom and legality of the bullion Act of 1852, endangered the existing arrangement between the banks in South Australia and jeopardized the policy that his predecessor had created. Probably his actions in refusing to accept gold ingots as legal tender during the crisis damaged the relative business position of the Bank of Australasia in South Australia. In 1856 he was chairman of a commission into the state accounts, and was later involved in inquiries into the liquor laws, the Education Board, the Police Department and the public service. In 1857 he inspected the Victorian goldfields. He was twice chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and held directorships in the South Australian Gas Co. and the Burra Burra mine of which he became deputy-chairman. He was also the lessee of Wilyerpa north run. When he retired as manager of the bank in 1879 he was made a local director.

Tomkinson was a member of the House of Assembly for Gumeracha in 1881-84 and of the Legislative Council in 1885-94 and 1897-1900. He was also a justice of the peace, an official visitor of the Lunatic Asylum and an alderman of the Adelaide City Council for twelve years. Known as a pessimist, he was a man of firm and frequently unpopular views. Scornful of 'experimental politics', he consistently opposed 'reckless expenditure and over hasty Socialistic legislation'. In parliament he voted against most loans on the grounds that expenditure should be kept within revenue, and that taxation was at all times excessive. He was staunchly anti-protectionist and a supporter of proportional representation. He regarded state education as extravagant, tyrannical and unnecessary. Having been a survivor of the Dee bridge disaster he held doubts about the safety of railway travel, and in 1856 he had opposed the idea of building railways on loans. A man of extreme rectitude and obstinacy he was considered a conservative also in Church affairs; he was a member of the Anglican synod.

Described by the Bulletin as a poor orator, 'short, spare and erect in stature, immaculately dressed', on 7 September 1853 Tomkinson had married Louisa Charlotte MacDermott at North Adelaide. He died of acute nephritis at Fitzroy, Adelaide, on 30 August 1900, survived by his wife (d.1910), five daughters and five of his seven sons; he was buried in North Road cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £30,000; he stipulated that a maximum of £20 be spent on his funeral. His paper on 'Adventure in the First Steamer, “Melbourne”, out of the Mouth of the River Murray on 20th August, 1854', was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, in 1901.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Tolmer, Reminiscences, vol 2 (Lond, 1882)
  • The ‘Register’ Guide to the Parliament of South Australia (Adel, 1887)
  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • Universal Publicity Co., The Official Civic Record of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • S. J. Butlin, Australia and New Zealand Bank (Melb, 1961)
  • Church News (South Australia), 11 June 1897, 14 Sept 1900
  • Bulletin, 1 July 1882
  • Observer (Adelaide), 14 July 1883, 21 Nov 1885, 12 Nov 1887, 1 Sept 1900
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 31 Aug 1900
  • W. R. C. Jacques, The Impact of the Gold Rushes on South Australia 1852-1854 (B.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1963).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Eric Richards, 'Tomkinson, Samuel (1816–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Samuel Tomkinson, by Walter Scott-Barry, c.1895

Samuel Tomkinson, by Walter Scott-Barry, c.1895

State Library of South Australia, B 5569

Life Summary [details]


25 April, 1816
Wrexham, Wrexham, Wales


30 August, 1900 (aged 84)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

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.

Key Organisations
Political Activism