Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thomas “Old Tom” Dowse

Thomas Dowse was one of the original free settlers in the Moreton Bay Colony.  He was a prolific writer – diarist, correspondent to newspapers, and journalist. He wrote his newspaper articles under the nom de plume of “Old Tom”, the name of variety of English gin popular in the 19th Century.

“Old Tom” Dowse

He was born in Hackney, London in 1809.  In 1824, he was tried at the Old Bailey for stealing his brother’s clothes and pawning them for the princely sum of 35 shillings.  The plaintiff and chief witness was his own mother. The fifteen year old Dowse was found guilty and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to transportation for life.

In 1827, together with 170 fellow convicts he was transported to Sydney on the Florentia. He was employed as a clerk and was granted his Ticket of Leave in 1836 and a conditional pardon was issued in 1839.  He had married in 1832.

In 1841, Dowse moved to the fledgling frontier town of Brisbane, following the closure of the Penal Settlement and the opening of the district to free settlement.  He purchased a skiff which he operated as a ferry across the Brisbane River. Over the years he operated a variety of businesses and was active in local politics, especially in the Separation of the Colony of Queensland from New South Wales, which was finally achieved in 1859.

He was appointed Town Clerk of Brisbane in 1862.  When he retired in 1869, he decided to write a series of articles for the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander detailing his recollections of the early days of the Moreton Bay Settlement.

His articles are written in bright and enthusiastic style, though reflecting the rather verbose fashion of his times.  Still they written from the viewpoint of the common man and reveal his rather liberal (for the time) inclinations. They remain are an invaluable resource for historians.

I will publish some of the more interesting excerpts from these articles in posts to come on this site.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

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