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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Worsnop, Thomas (1821–1898)

by Helen R. Mullins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Thomas Worsnop (1821-1898), by S. Solomon

Thomas Worsnop (1821-1898), by S. Solomon

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 10803

Thomas Worsnop (1821-1898), town clerk and author, was born on 2 February 1821 at Wortley, Leeds, Yorkshire, England. He first worked for W. Bruce, a wool manufacturer of Leeds, and reputedly studied arts and law at Cambridge but does not appear in the university's records. He taught for a time, probably at a college in Yorkshire, but ill health led him to migrate to South Australia. He arrived in Adelaide in the China on 12 November 1852 with his wife Mary Ann, née Kenyon (d.1905), and their three children. Settling at Port Elliot, he later worked as a storeman for seven years for Elder, Stirling & Co. In 1859 he was appointed a sergeant in the South Australian Volunteers. After an unsuccessful period on the land, from 1863 he was lessee of the Globe Inn, Rundle Street, Adelaide, but was declared bankrupt with debts of £5000 on 16 May 1864 (annulled 1884). He then worked as a teamster, servicing many of the far northern stations and suffering severe privation in the great drought of 1865-66.

In September 1866 Worsnop was appointed clerk in the town clerk's department of Adelaide City Council; in 1868 he was city treasurer and assistant town clerk, and on 11 January 1869 he became acting town clerk, taking over permanently later that year. The council had a large debt and its affairs were in arrears; but Worsnop quickly proved an efficient and conscientious administrator, reducing the debt by £3000 in a year and erasing it by 1877. He formulated many schemes for improving and enhancing Adelaide and was especially interested in developing and protecting the Park Lands. His 1885 report to the council detailed the controversy surrounding their original purchase in 1839.

In 1879 Worsnop helped to set up the Municipal Corporations Association of South Australia and was its secretary until his death. He was regularly asked to provide expert evidence on civic affairs to government select committees. A justice of the peace, a Freemason and member of the Old Colonists' Association, he was a fervent admirer of South Australia and published numerous booklets on municipal affairs, in many of which he eulogized Adelaide as a model city.

Worsnop is particularly remembered for the excellent, detailed History of the City of Adelaide (1878); its original is in the Adelaide City Council Archives. He also left a useful manuscript, 'The Historical Record of South Australia 1512-1854', which is in the South Australian State Archives. In 1897 he published The Prehistoric Arts, Manufactures, Works, Weapons, etc., of the Aborigines of Australia, consisting of material from two papers he had read to the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, and to the ethnology and anthropology sections of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in Brisbane in 1895. He was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, London.

In 1890 Worsnop's portrait had been presented to him by the council in whose chambers it now hangs. He was 'Jealous to a fault of the citizens' privileges' and 'strong in large matters, careful over small things'. In 1898 he took sick leave but died of diabetes and gall-stones on 24 January at his home in Barnard Street, North Adelaide, aged 76. He was buried in the Anglican North Road cemetery, survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons. His estate was sworn for probate at £400.

Select Bibliography

  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 19 July 1890
  • Observer (Adelaide), 21 Feb 1891, 29 Jan 1898
  • Register (Adelaide), 25 Jan 1898
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 29 Jan 1898
  • Town and Country Journal, 12 Feb 1898
  • Adelaide City Council Archives
  • insolvency register and papers (State Records of South Australia)
  • passenger lists, 1852 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Helen R. Mullins, 'Worsnop, Thomas (1821–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 4 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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