William (Parson) Tom

 BORN 25 May 1791 at Bodmin, Cornwall, England.
 BAPTISED 12 June 1791 at Blisland, Cornwall, England.
 DIED 28 September 1883 at Springfield, NSW

NSW Death Record 11224/1883.

 FATHER John Tom (1751-1819)
 MOTHER Mary Olver (1762-1837)
 MARRIED Ann Lane (1796-1870) on 31 December 1817 at St. Cleather Parish (3 miles from Blisland)
 CHILDREN   Mary Tom (1818-1912)
John Tom (1820-1895)
James Tom (1822-1898)
William Tom jnr (1823-1904)
Thomas Tom (1825-1900)
Henry Tom (1827-1896)
Nicholas Tom (1829-1888)
Charles Tom (1831-1904)
Emma Fletcher Tom (1833-1872)
Helen Wesley Tom (1833-1916)
Selina Jane Jones Tom (1835-1929)
Wesley Tom (1837-1898)
Annie Tom (1840-1872)

Grazier and Lay preacher.

William Tom, Excise officer, Farmer, Miner and Wesleyan lay preacher, was born on 25 May 1791 in Blisland, Cornwall, on the edge of Bodmin Moor, and was baptised on 12 Jun 1791. On 31 Dec 1817 in St. Clether Parish (5 km across the moor from Blisland), he married Ann Lane (1796-1870), who had been born in Bridgerule, near Holsworthy, in Devon. The couple had 13 children: three of these were born in Cornwall; one at sea before their arrival in New South Wales in 1823; and nine in the Bathurst district of N.S.W. William Tom died on 28 September 1883, at the age of 92, at his property Springfield, near Orange N.S.W., and is buried in the nearby Byng cemetery.

A New Life:
To a grandson, William Tom recounted that he had been in the Excise Service in Cornwall, but he came of farming stock. (He was a strongly-built man, said to be 180 cm tall — well above average for the times.) Economic conditions in England at the time were very harsh and, with his young and growing family, daughter Mary (4 years) and sons John (3) and James (2), William Tom set out for Australia in 1823, at the age of 32. They were accompanied by William Lane (brother of Ann), with his wife and 2 children.

The ship on which they were travelling, the Betty Ann lost its steering gear in a storm while trying to navigate the mouth of the Derwent River in Tasmania. The ship was being driven onto the rocky coast. It is said the Captain knew that William Tom was a deeply religious man and told him of the plight of the vessel, drifting with two lifeboats gone, both masts, rudder and the cook’s deckhouse smashed; Tom went below to pray. The wind is said to have changed direction soon after and sent the vessel into the mouth of the Derwent River.

The Toms and Lanes, and Anne Tom’s nephew who travelled with them stayed with a Rev. Mansfield in Hobart for a couple of weeks and then were able to procure a passage on a very small craft named Jupiter and so they arrived in Sydney. During the five day trip, Ann bore another son, William Tom Junior, off Point Disappointment (?).

The family arrived in Sydney in November 1823, and after three months at Parramatta, the Toms crossed the Blue Mountains in a bullock dray to take up a 680-acre selection on the southern bank of the Fish River at Tarana. However he found that the trees were hard to burn and moved to Sidmouth Valley and thence to Wallaroi, near Bathurst, where he managed for John Hassall.

By 1829, the ban prohibiting settlers selecting land west of the Macquarie River (the Western District) was lifted and in 1830 William Tom took up a grant of 640 acres (259 hectares) shown in an 1828 map on the left bank of Lewis Ponds Creek, where the Sheep Station Creek joins. He called his property Springfield and became the first inhabitant of what was to become the Cornish Settlement, as more of Tom’s countrymen, with names like Glasson and Hawke, came to settle there. Cornish Settlement was later called Byng, after an eighteenth-century British admiral who was unjustly court-martialled and shot.

Parson Tom’s first home, old Springfield, was a simple wattle-and-daub structure with four rooms and a loft for the boys and their tutor George Hawke, and has now disappeared, but the new homestead, built of local sandstone in 1847-54, presumably with convict labour, is still in fine condition. It is in this house that Tom was visited by Edward Hargraves, who showed the Tom boys how to make a cradle. (George Hawke was paid £5 and two cows per year to tutor the Tom boys.)

In the early 1840s the older ones among William Tom’s eight hardy sons began droving stock west and south-west. John (1820-1895) and William (1823-1904) drove cattle to Gippsland and took up a run known as Tom’s Camp. In 1847 Henry (1827-1896) and Nicholas (1829-1888) bought cattle at Mudgee to drove to Adelaide but met James Tyson, who persuaded them to squat at Booligal, where they remained in occupation with their father as a partner until 1858 when they sold out for £25,000. At various times the brothers also held Tom’s Lake, Borambil, Huntawong, Gunningbland, Wilga and Cowl-Cowl.

In the parlour of the Springfield homestead about 150 years ago William Tom, his wife Ann and their 13 children gathered around a pipe organ for their nightly session of hymns. It is said that William would pump the pedals enthusiastically and lead the singing in his strong resonant voice. The problem was that William did not always stick to the right key and his wife would make a quiet protest that he was putting them all out. The story goes on to record that William would invariably reply: Well, my dear, I must praise the Lord and thank Him for all our blessings.

Parson Tom was a lay Wesleyan preacher; he preached to local copper miners from Bethel Rock on his property, and travelled to other towns preaching, until a small church was built in May 1842. A plaque on Bethel Rock proclaims this to have been the first church west of Bathurst; its foundations are still visible just across the road from Bookannon homestead. A sign on the new church says it was erected in 1872 to replace the 1840 (!?) Wesleyan chapel built 800 metres to its NE. Another plaque on Bethel Rock, entitled The Cornish Settlement 1829, indicates the old homesteads Springfield, Bookannon and Pendarves, as well as directions to Bathurst (20 miles), Orange (10 miles) and Ophir (12 miles). Other notable names in the settlement, besides Tom, were Glasson and Hawke.

William Tom lacked the business acumen that enabled other Cornish farmers, including two sons-in-law, to make fortunes in the west in his lifetime. He was a patriarch who won in the new land what he wanted: sturdy children, a house of stone, with his land and flocks around, and a following of devoted Christians.

William Tom died on 28 September 1883, at the age of 92, at his property Springfield and is buried in the nearby Byng cemetery. On his death certificate, his occupation is given as Gentleman and the cause of death as old age.

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I was fascinated to find the following paragraph in Geoffrey Blainey’s book Black Kettle and Full Moon, 2003. He is describing the effect of the coming of the safety match to Australia.

The matches were brittle. In exasperation a person would take a clump of matches and hold them tightly so that the chance of striking a light was higher. As a large box of the newfangled wax matches cost the high sum of about half a crown in 1860, the expense of striking a light could be high. When one of these fickle boxes reached an old pioneer named Parson Tom, living on the inland side of the Blue Mountains, and he tried to light a candle, two boys heard him strike every one of those matches, and finally go to bed in the dark. Another commentator says And he didn’t swear once!
      — SJC

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On the 50th anniversary of Parson Tom’s death, a clergyman read the following remembrances of him at his grave: He was a striking personality as he appeared in the gentleman’s full dress of the early Victorian time. The dress coat and white silk hat emphasised his sturdy English figure, so well proportioned, and suggestive of a straightforward manly independence, fearing none but his divine Maker. Always his strong dignified features were beaming with a genial smile. Mr Tom was related to many of the leading families in the western district, and he dispensed to them liberal hospitality at Springfield, and at that early period of our country’s history, there was great need for the faithful preaching of the Gospel, amid the indifference and godlessness of the people. From his home at Springfield Parson Tom could be seen, at first, on horseback, and later in his buggy, setting off on long trips to preach.   

R D Barton in Reminiscences of an Australian Pioneer says One of the greatest things Parson Tom did for the country was to rear 14 children.

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Obituary in The Land
The late Mr William Tom, commonly known as Parson Tom.

In May last he celebrated his 92nd birthday, having been born on the 25th May, 1791, in the parish of St. Breward, Cornwall. On the last day of the year 1817 he married Miss Annie Lane of Basil, Devon, and thirteen children were born to and reared by them. In June of 1823, Mr. Tom left England with his family in the ship Belinda, in company with the late Mr. W. Lane, of Orton Park, Bathurst; but the journey was a disastrous one. The ship was wrecked off Amsterdam, and lost all the masts, rudder, and bulwarks, five of the crew being drowned; but jury masts were rigged and the dismantled vessel beat up to Hobart Town, from which place the brig Jupiter brought the party on to Sydney, which port was reached early in December, 1823. Mr. Tom engaged with Mr. Jonathan Hassel, as superintendent, at Hoota Hill, Macquarie Plains, but afterwards settled at Sydmouth Valley, where he built a good dwelling-house, which, however, was burned to the ground the day after it was finished. Further ill-fortune followed, for all the sheep he owned (500 ewes) died with footrot, and Mr. Tom was left houseless and nearly pennyless. He then sold his grant of land to Major Lowe, of Bringelly, I and removed to the spot known as Mutton’s Falls, where he built a house and resided for some two years. This property he subsequently sold to the late Mr. W. Mutton, senior. In 1829 he obtained a grant of land from Sir K. Darling, and took up Springfield, at which place he resided until the day of his death.

Mr. Tom was the first to bring a four-wheeled vehicle over the mountains — a waggon. He was the first to work bullocks in the yoke in the colony, and was the first white man settler to cross the Macquarie with his family to reside West of Bathurst, and this he did in the year 1830.

Mr. Tom, with the late Mr. W. Lane, the late Mr. G. Hawke, and Mr. John Glasson, who is now in New Zealand, were the cause of bringing over the mountains the first Wesleyan minister — Rev. J. Orton. Subsequently the gentlemen named became responsible to the British Conference for the salary and expenses of a minister direct from England; the Rev. Frederick Lewis being sent about the year 1836. The deceased gentleman was most energetic and acceptable as a local preacher in connection with the Wesleyan Church in this district. He has left 11 children, 68 grand-children, and 47 greatgrand children. He was buried at Byng on Sunday afternoon, the 1st instant, in the presence of an immense concourse of people, the majority of whom had known him intimately, and who as they saw the coffin lowered in the grave were moved to utter the prayer, Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his. The funeral services were conducted by the Revs. J. A. Waddell, R. Allen, R.Dyson, and W. G. R. Stephinson.

It may be added to the above account that the late Mr. William Tom’s wife died in her seventy-fourth year, at Springfield, in 1870. It is most remarkable how death kept away from the Tom family for many years. The late Mrs. Tom lived in three different homes during her long life, for upwards of twenty years in each, without a single death occurring in the house. Springfield, at the Cornish Settlement, was one of the houses, and it was in the year 1868 that the first death took place under the same roof where she resided, and this was an infant named Horace Wesley, son of her daughter Emma, the wife of the late Thomas G. Webb.

The late Mrs. William Tom had thirteen children — eight sons and five daughters. All the sons were 5ft. 11in. high and over, and one of them reaching as much as 6ft. 4in. in his stockings.    


⬩⬩⬩ Ourgen.es web page made 250March 2006; edited  ⬩⬩⬩