Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Lieutenant Thomas Thompson

Commandant at Newcastle 1814 - 1816

Early in 1814 Newcastle penal settlement was under command of Lieut. Thomas Skottowe of the 73rd Regiment. John Tucker was employed as Storekeeper; William Evans as Acting Assistant Surgeon; and Robert Whitmore as harbour pilot.

Lieutenant Thomas Thompson was appointed Commandant at Newcastle in February 1814.....

His Excellency the Governor and Commander of the Forces has been pleased to appoint Lieutenant Thomas Thompson of the 46th Regiment to be Commandant of the Settlement of Newcastle; and also a Magistrate in that Settlement, during his Continuance in command of it

The Salary of Lieutenant Thompson, as Commandant of Newcastle, will commence from the date of his receiving the Charge thereof from Lieutenant Skottowe, the present Commandant.

The Detachment of the 46th Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Thompson under Orders for Newcastle will embark on board the Colonial Brig Endeavour, on Monday next at 3 o'clock.

With a View to prevent the married Soldiers of the 46th Regiment from putting themselves to unnecessary Expenses in purchasing Houses for their families to live in, the Commander of the Forces requests Lieutenant Colonel Molle will be so good as to apprise them, that after the Embarkation of the 73rd Regiment takes place, no soldier, married or unmarried, will be permitted to live out of Barracks, as there will then be sufficient Accommodation for the whole of the 46th Regiment in the Barracks.

By Command of His Excellency, The Governor and Commander of the Forces, H.C. Antill, Major of Brigade

On examining correspondence in the Colonial Secretary's Papers, much of Lieut. Thompson's time at Newcastle seems to have been taken up with the despatch of vital supplies of lime, coal and timber for Sydney; and in controlling the convict population of which there was a steady stream in and out of the settlement.

His tenure was marred by unfortunate circumstances such as fraudulent practices by Captain Ross of the Estramina who had a practice of smuggling cedar planks from the settlement, necessitating a strict new set of regulations to be introduced. There was also always the threat of convicts absconding and no doubt punishments took place when they were captured, however Lieut. Thompson was perhaps a little more lenient than other Commandants as the practice of allowing prisoners to work on their own behalf had been allowed to flourish. He was afterwards instructed by Headquarters that the prisoners were sent to Newcastle as punishment and were under no circumstances to work on their own account but to be employed during the entire day by government work.

Convict Pirates

In March 1814 just one month after his arrival at the Settlement, four convicts - Edward Scarr, Joseph Burridge, Herbert Styles and John Pierce - made a Daring escape in the sloop Speedwell. Correspondence by Lieut. Thompson to Headquarters reveal how primitive the conditions were - there was no government boat at the settlement with which to pursue the absconders. This together with a lack of ammunition and betrayal by trusted convicts ensured that the convicts could make their escape from the settlement with little chance of re-capture once they were in open water.

Wreck of the Estramina at Stockton

On January 14th, 1816, the Government schooner Estramina, of 120 tons, and Mr. Thomas Underwood's schooner Elizabeth and Mary, of 86 tons, went both ashore near the entrance to the Hunter river, and were wrecked. Lieutenant Thompson, with a number of Newcastle residents, witnessed the two wrecks, and performed signal services by which the lives of the crews of the vessels and some cargo were saved

The two vessels had sailed from the river in company, the former with coals and cedar and the latter with coals only, for Sydney. The Elizabeth and Mary in standing over to the North Shore, as Stockton was called in the early days, and in the act of staying got stern way and hung aft. At the time there was a strong north-east wind and ebb tide and Captain James Gordon found it impossible to get her anchor out in the bent, consequently she became stranded. Captain Gordon's men eventually towed her off, but she broke away her rudder and stove in part of her counter, when the heavy surf dashed her on to the point again. She then filled, and was driven high up on shore in a wrecked condition.

Within five minutes of the Elizabeth and Mary's first striking, the Government schooner Estramina was driven on shore a little to the windward. All efforts to save her drifting ashore were ineffectual, and she soon filled. At seven p.m. the seas broke clean over her, and she upset. During the night the beach became strewn with her wreckage
. -Newcastle Morning Herald 11 March 1898

The First School in Newcastle

Despite the difficulties and unfortunate events mentioned above, Lieut. Thompson's two years at Newcastle resulted in a worthwhile outcome for the settlement as it was under his direction that a School was established at Newcastle with convict Henry Wrensford employed as Schoolmaster.

James Hardy Vaux

Another positive aspect of Lieut. Thompson's nature is revealed by James Hardy Vaux' dedication in his Memoirs :

Newcastle, New South Wales, 17th September 1815.
Commandant Of Newcastle,
In The Colony Of New South Wales, And One Of His Majesty's Justices Of The Peace For That Territory.
Having, in obedience to your commands, completed the following narrative of my adventures, I should deem myself wanting in gratitude, were I to omit offering, at the same time that I respectfully submit my production to your perusal, the humble tribute of my thanks, for the many favours I have received at your hands; for the indulgent treatment I have generally experienced; and more particularly for the distinguished honour you have conferred on so unworthy an object as myself, in condescending to feel an interest in the occurrences of my former life, and in permitting me to inscribe to you the following Memoirs of it.

I beg to assure you, sir, that however fate or fortune may hereafter dispose of me, the remembrance of your goodness will never be effaced from my mind; and that in the event of my past sufferings inducing you to use your bountiful influence in my behalf, and to procure me once more the probable means of attaining a respectable rank in society, my future conduct shall be such, as to prove that you have not erred in believing me radically reformed, and deserving the honour of your patronage. In the sincere hope that these sheets will contribute to your entertainment, and that of such friends as you may be pleased to communicate them to, I have the honour to subscribe myself, With the most dutiful respect, Sir, Your obliged and grateful Humble servant, James H. Vaux. Newcastle.

Departure from Newcastle

In 1816 Captain Wallis was appointed to take over as Commandant. He arrived at the settlement on the Lady Nelson with a sergeant, corporal, drummer and 50 rank and file in June 1816 (double the number of soldiers under Lieut. Thompson). On 29 June 1816 Captain Wallis and Lieut. Thompson, mustered their detachments and paraded in the presence of the settlement civilians. Congratulatory addresses were delivered and Captain Thompson and his detachment departed on H.M.S. Lady Nelson on 30th June 1816. Eighty years later he was described by Newcastle historian H. W. H. Huntington -

He was a man of a plain sound understanding, and acted upon his own conviction with sincerity. The law of benevolence and kindness was written too deeply on his heart to make him an oppressive disciplinarian, and his courteous conciliating and polished manners ill accorded with the uncouth manners of the class of persons located at Newcastle at that time.

Captain Thompson departed from the colony with his regiment on the Dick in October 1817 bound for Madras.

Notes and Links

1). Lieutenant Thomas Thompson of the 46th regiment was appointed Captain of a Company, without purchase, vice Campbell who was promoted in the Royal East India Rangers.. Dated 7 September 1815 - Edinburgh Gazette

2). Captain Thomas Thompson of 46th regiment was appointed Major, by purchase, vice Nairn, who retired. Dated 21st June 1831. - London Gazette

3). The Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux dedicated to Lieutenant Thomas Thompson Commandant at Newcastle 1814 - 1816 - Internet Archives

4). Commandants at Newcastle included -

March 1804 - February 1805 - Lieutenant Charles Menzies

March 1805 - 20th March 1805 - Ensign Cadwallader Draffen

20th March 1805 - December 1805 - Charles Throsby

December 1805 (Temporary) - Lieutenant William Lawson

December 1805 - September 1808 - Charles Throsby

September 1808 - December 1808 - Ensign Villiers

December 1808 - February 1810 - Lieutenant William Lawson

February 1810 - December 1811 - Lieutenant John Purcell

December 1811 - February 1814 - Lieutenant Skottowe

February 1814 - June 1816 - Lieutenant Thomas Thompson

June 1816 - December 1818 - Captain James Wallis (46th regiment)

December 1818 - 1823 - Major James Thomas Morisset


Sydney Gazette 9 February 1814