Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Thomas Family

Sarah and William Thomas were typical examples of early settlers whose hard work and persistence built the foundations of the community in Shellharbour.

Sarah and William had three children William, John and Clorinda, by the time they migrated to Australia. This in itself was an adventurous step – a strange unknown continent with a small town called Sydney, which was the only real outpost that was at all familiar.

They arrived at Wollongong Harbour in 1838 on a steamer nicknamed ’Puffing Billy’ and were immediately engaged by Henry Osborne at Marshall Mount. The Thomas’ occupied the gardener’s cottage. Many years later, the Thomas’ daughter Clorinda (Cloe) recalled the time when they landed at the harbour. She remembered the place where the convicts were housed a little back from the landing spot. As there was no wharf, their possessions had to be carried from the boat to dry land. Clorinda recalled it was very cold and one of the sailors carried her ashore. Dan, the bullock driver met them and drove them up Crown Street which was at that time just a dirt track.

William Thomas was employed as a carpenter and built the cedar staircase in Marshall Mount House and planted and English Oak on the farm, which is still there today. Sarah was engaged with the house duties for the Osborne’s.

Sarah and William later moved to Log Bridge Farm at Yallah where their other seven children were born.

In the early years Sarah would have worked alongside her husband on the farm, tended her children as well as the normal house duties, which would have included making her own butter, grinding flour, washing by hand and making the family clothes.

Unlike so many others at the time who lasted only two or three years in the country, William and Sarah tackled the fear of the bush, the unknown, worked with the land and made it their home until their death. A patchwork cot quilt made by Sarah Thomas c.1840 on her voyage to Australia is part of the Tongarra Museum collection.

The Thomas family remained in Shellharbour and continued to prosper. John Thomas, who arrived with his parents in 1838, married Maria Haslam and they lived at Shellharbour Village owning a store, and later a Butchering business. John served briefly as an Alderman and was a member of the first Albion Park Show Committee, he was one of the founders of the Allowie Temperance Lodge, Church of England Shellharbour where he occupied the position of Church Warden. His greatest work is considered to be his work with the Co-operative Shipping Co. where he assisted with the formation and was a shareholder and director when the company commenced operation in 1856.

Another son, Henry (Harry) coomenced farming at Clover Hill Macquarie Pass in 1894. He married Mary James, daughter of pioneers William and Elizabeth James of Shellharbour in 1896 and most of Mary and Harry's children were born at Clover Hill. In 1912 they moved to St Ives at Dunmore, leaving their son Kenneth to carry on the farming until the property was sold to Ben Turner in 1950.
The museum has six handmade wax cows made by Maria Thomas at Shellharbour, and a working Victoria Automatic Sock Knitting Machine, used by Mary Thomas at Clover Hill to make socks for the soldiers in World War One.

The museum also holds Sarah Thomas' silk tartan skirt, a cot quilt made by Sarah, a brooch and a lock of her hair.

The Thomas family remains in Shellharbour and continues to be actively involved in their community. Tongarra Museum is lucky enough to have a source of some authority on this family, Maurece Kelly, working as a volunteer.

The Thomas children and their father Harry at Clover Hill farm, Macquarie Pass c.1907.
Shellharbour Images Shellharbour City Libraries.

Wax cows handmade by Maria Thomas at Clover Hill, c.1900.
Tongarra Museum collection.

Cot quilt handmade by Sarah Thomas c.1838
Tongarra Museum collection.

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