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Hewitt, Thomas George (1841–1915)

from Northern Star (Lismore, NSW)

A voice is heard on earth of kinsfolk weeping
The loss of one they love;
But he is gone where the Redeemed are keeping
A festival above.
The mourners throng the way, and from the steeple
The funeral bell tolls slow;
But in the golden streets the holy people
Are passing to and fro;
And saying, as they meet, Rejoice! another
Long waited for—has come.

Profound regret was expressed on all sides when it became known yesterday that Mr. Thomas George Hewitt, J.P., who has been connected with these districts for seventy-two years, had passed away at his residence, Zadoc-street, Lismore, after a lengthy illness. The deceased gentleman who was in his 74th year at the time of his death, was the only child of Scotch parents, who came out from Scotland in the thirties, his father, the late Mr. Thomas Hewitt, senr., coming to Australia as station manager for the Australian Agricultural Company, and assuming charge of some of the finest station properties on the New England Tableland. Subsequently, about 1838, he took up for the late Mr. Archibald Boyd a large tract of country which still bears the name he gave it, and known as Stonehenge and Yarraford through which the Sydney-Brisbane railway to-day passes, close to Glen Innes. His death occurred at Grafton, of which he was a respected citizen for about 33 years, on March 8th, 1876, at the age of 71 years. It was on Stonehenge that Mr. T. G. Hewitt was born, on 19th April 1841, he being the first white child born on New England soil, Stonehenge then being the furthest north to which which people had penetrated. So it was that with the aboriginals so numerous and employed about the station Mr. Hewitt acquired complete command of their language, which more than once stood him and his father in good stead, when the natives were troublesome. Many of these experiences were thrilling. In those days fat cattle had to be driven to the Hunter River, and with the object of finding a shorter route to deep water and the Sydney market, his father, with another man, set out for the coast, and after three weeks reached the Clarence towards the end of 1842. They rested under, and named, the eminence seen from the road to-day — Wellington's Lookout. Those who have been over the road Tenterfield to Tabulam will realise the formidable nature of the task they set themselves, and the fact that the road to-day for many miles, including the Sandy Hill, follows the track they blazed, speaks of the excellent work and their ability in selecting the best grade over the ranges. Being so pleased with the coastal country Mr. T. Hewitt, senr., took up land at Grafton, and later on he purchased Newton Boyd Station, at the head of the Clarence, and was later joined by his relatives, the Messrs. McDonald, who acquired "Broadmeadows" close by, and still retain it. Mr. T. G. Hewitt was then about two years of age. After some years residence at Newton Boyd, which in time became an important centre, with hotel, store, post and telegraph station (all of which were afterwards burnt down), Mr. Hewitt, senr., returned to Grafton, having amassed a competency. Here he acquired considerable property, which afterwards passed to his son, who was sent to Mr. Cape's school, in Sydney, to be educated for the Bar. During his school days there were no steamers trading to the Clarence, and the trips to and from Sydney in the schooners often occupied a week. It was whilst he was at school that the Dunbar was wrecked, and Mr. T. G. Hewitt often related how he walked out to the Gap, arriving there in time to see Johnston (the sole survivor) hauled up the cliffs. Among his school mates were the late Mr. Terry (member for Ryde), Mr. Dickinson (Learmont, Dickinson), Mr. Jacques (Stephen, Jacques and Stephens, solicitors, Sydney), Mr. Noumea Joubert (Lane Cove, now of Terranora, Tweed River), Mr. J. C. Irving, and others who have made their mark in life. His reminiscences of old Sydney would have filled a volume and made interesting reading, and they were singularly accurate, for he was able to locate all the old landmarks of the city and knew the history of very many of its principal sites from 1852 upwards. Disliking the legal training, Mr. T. G. Hewitt abandoned his studies for the Bar, but the legal knowledge thus acquired proved of service to many poor people in after years and to himself as a Journalist in a State with libel laws, which offer every newspaper as a target. So he embarked in investments of various descriptions, steam companies, businesses of different kinds, mining, stock breeding, etc. It was at Grafton that he met and married his late wife, who was mistress of the Grafton Public School, and who proved a devoted partner through a long and happy life. The family consists of two sons, Messrs. T. M. and N. C. Hewitt. Mrs. J. A. Menzies (of Drummoyne), and the Misses Florence and Mary Hewitt (besides three grandchildren), by whom, as well as by Dr. R. V. Graham (with Drs. Humphery, Franceschi, Jarvie Hood, and Chisholm Ross in consultation, the two lastnamed being lifelong friends), he was lovingly cared for since he has been afflicted. Mr. William Cowan, senr., grazier, of the Upper Clarence, now well over 90 years of age, is an uncle. The late Mr. T. Hewitt and his son. Mr. T. G. Hewitt, were directors of the Clarence and New England Steam Company, and among its largest shareholders, the company going into liquidation in November, 1879. Its failure cast a blight on all those connected with it, and brought about the early death of some of its principal shareholders. Mr. T. G. Hewitt was obliged to sacrifice all his property, then worth some thousands of pounds, and with a young family to support he had to start life over again. Among the property he had to part with were some of the most valuable sites in Grafton to-day, one being the site of the railway station, whilst buildings included brick and stone premises still in excellent state of preservation. This misfortune he with characteristic reticence very rarely referred to, but the facts are familiar to all old residents. His honorable discharge of his liabilities will long be recalled as one of the brightest actions of an upright life. Such an experience would have proved fatal to many a man, but the subject of this notice was a man who knew not defeat, and so he faced the struggles of life cheerfully and courageously. It was then that he took up active Journalism, accepting the editorial chair of the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, to which he had for many years regularly contributed. Under his able regime that Journal became a tremendous power in the district and the leading provincial paper in the Colony. Whilst in Grafton he was an alderman for 11 years and Mayor on two occasions. He took part in all its public movements, being for many years its foremost citizen, President of the Hospital, School of Arts. Agricultural Society, Clarence River Jockey Club, Building Society, etc, etc. He was for many years an elder of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church there (and later of St. Paul's at Lismore), a lay preacher and Superintendent of its Sabbath School, and for many years an officer and prominent worker in the district auxiliaries of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He was also a prominent Freemason, chaplain to the lodge there and at Lismore, and a Royal Forester of 55 years standing. He was a Justice of the Peace and a member of the Licensing Bench as well as of the Land Board at Grafton, and a man in whose fairness and strict impartiality everyone reposed the fullest confidence. On the Bench Mr. Hewitt set an example of impartiality, bringing to bear on all questions a ripe judgment and a trained faculty of observation. The Agricultural Society and Chamber of Commerce in Lismore also had his warm support, and he was in different years their president and a committeeman. For the Hospital and School of Arts he was a good worker, being for some years President of each institution in both cities. In the Jockey Clubs on both rivers and on the School Boards he held first position; Indeed there was no public institution with which be was not associated. Other positions he occupied were magistrate for the consent of marriage to minors and coroner for the Clarence River district, in which capacity he ably conducted the enquiry on the bodies of the drowned in the New England steamship disaster, being officially thanked for his services. He was primarily responsible for the A.M.P. S0ciety opening its district branches at Grafton and Lismore, as also the Savings Bank of N.S.W. at Grafton, and for years he acted as a district trustee of the last named institution. His knowledge of the district and assiduity in advocacy of railway communication were widely recognised, and upon the different visits of the Railway Commissioners and Public Works Committee to Grafton he was always chosen by public bodies to accompany the party over the rival routes. In these and other ways he came in contact with the most influential men in the Colony, and in N.S.W. he was known probably better than any other man outside the metropolis. Everything that was for the advancement of the district had his support with pen and purse. He imported many of the best blood horses to the Clarence, also high-class poultry, pigeons (for homing purposes). Many new varieties of maize, etc, he introduced, and he spent much money and time in experimental work of one kind and another. This work he continued on the Richmond, and in connection with the wonderful paspalum grass, Mr. Edwin Seccombe, who introduced it to the district, was always pleased to speak of the great help and encouragement he received from Mr. T. G. Hewitt. Seeds were regularly imported from America and distributed gratis to his friends on the land. He regularly received the world's best literature on stock and agriculture, and in these departments he was exceedingly well informed. Like his father he was a great lover of that noble animal the horse, and at one time an expensive breeder and owner of racehorses and a string of ponies the fame of some of which has spread through the colonies. He imported some of the finest thoroughbred horses in the seventies and early eighties when the Clarence was the home of the thoroughbred in this colony, when races for £500 purses were being held at Smith's Flat (now Copmanhurst). Mr. T. G. Hewitt was a first class judge of stock of all kinds and thoroughly understood their management, but particularly horses, as a judge of which he has officiated at the Royal Show, and at district Shows his services were often sought. His decisions on these occasions always commanded respect. His knowledge of the ailments of stock was extensive and accurate, and many owners can testify to his veterinary skill.

He was liberal to every good cause and generous to every man he could assist. All his lifetime he was keenly interested in the aborigines' protection, and for many years past he has been a member of the Board. He never begrudged the time he spent listening to the requirements of individuals and helped them with his own means. To some of the oldest living Aborigines on the Clarence be regularly sent a sum of money each Christmas—even when stricken down.

Late in 1887 after the death of his second son and sickness in the family, Mr. Hewitt, not getting the best of health, resigned his position as editor of the Examiner and accepted a position with the A.M.P. Society, travelling the Clarence and Richmond in company with the late Dr. Henry, afterwards of the Coast Hospital, Little Bay. In this capacity he visited every portion when it was clothed with impenetrable scrubs and unmetalled tracks. He had visited Casino, Ettrick, Unumgar, Dyraaba, Woorooolgen, Ky ogle and Lismore as far back an 1865. In those visits to the stations at the head of the Clarence and Richmond in the early sixties for the purpose of purchasing large numbers of fat stock, Mr. T. G. Hewitt became intimately acquainted with such men as the Hon. T. H. Smith (who selected Gordon Brook in January, 1853, Messrs. Clark Irving (Tomki), Henry Barnes (then at Tomki), Alexander MacKellar, Fred Bundock (Dryaaba), Dr. Dobie (Stratheden). Messrs. Massle, Barker (Ettrick), Donald Campbell (Wooroowoolgen), Frank Hayes Barling (Bruton), Fanning, Griffiths, Hon. T. D. Ogilvie, Penrose (Yulgilbar), Shannon, C. Edwards, C. H. Fawcett and other sterling men whose friendship he possessed and valued till their death, for they have all passed away. And now in Mr. Hewitt's death there has passed away one of the few remaining men connected with the squatting life of fifty years ago, a period long anterior to either the agricultural or dairy development of the district, and a period noted for the sturdy colonists it developed.

Having purchased the Northern Star from the late Mr. W. Kelleway (who founded it in 1876), Mr. T. C. Hewitt decided in June, 1889, to leave Grafton. The news everywhere on the Clarence created universal regret. Public meetings were held at all the towns and a district ceremonial instituted. In that year he and his family were entertained at a public conversazione and presented with a purse of 155 sovereigns, and this at a time when the district was being devastated by floods. 

Under Mr. Hewitt's proprietorship the paper was improved from a circulation of 600 to its present 7500, being today recognised as the leading and largest provincial newspaper of the State with the biggest circulation. In 1889 the Star was a four page bi-weekly, but its size was soon increased by him to eight pages and later to twelve pages. About 1904 it became a tri-weekly, and then a daily on July 1, 1907. Up till recent years, when the management and editorial duties of the Star required all his attention, Mr. Hewitt devoted considerable time to public life, notably the hospital (for which with others, he was a strenuous worker for the trained nurses and pay wards), the Agricultural Society and Chamber of Commerce. At public agitations for the railway he was a prominent and a logical speaker and always brought to bear in ?? light the result of mature thought on the deliberations of these meetings. Whatever he undertook he prepared well beforehand and did it thoroughly. His wide experience was recognised and his advice always sought, and invariably he was found on the right side. During his long journalistic life he never supported a defeated candidate, and every candidate for Parliamentary honors that the Star supported he had the satisfaction of seeing elected. His support was given only after very careful consideration of the qualifications of the candidates, and he worked strenuously on their behalf, and his leading articles carried conviction. His fearless and able pen was often raised in defence of the weak, the poor and the Aborigines, the birds and the dumb animals, to whom he was ever a warm friend, and a lover of our vanishing flora, for the preservation of which he pleaded. He was a great lover of art and was the possessor of many choice pictures. As a Journalist Mr. Hewitt occupied a very high position. In controversy there never was a more honorable opponent. The debt which these districts owe to him for his advocacy of their needs will never be realised and indeed can never be assessed. His work was done out of the glare of the limelight that blazes upon the acts of politicians—work done with a conscience as his reward, responsible only to his own sense of duty for the straightness of the line he took, he never varied, whether in his writings or in his public or private utterances in different districts, from the most unswerving devotion to duty to the highest standard of rectitude and courtesy. As evidence of the public confidence reposed in him it may be mentioned that he was left as executor in eighteen wills. His interests were wide and he often had the opportunity, if he had been willing to avail himself of it, to enter public life and obtain some of the public attention to which his long and good service entitled him. But, having no desire for public acclamation, he preferred to remain in the career in which he had found his more unpretentious usefulness. In that profession from first to last it may be said of him that for half a century he did his duty by his Journal and by his district. He was a man of wide reading and varied knowledge and almost to the last kept himself abreast of current movements so far as in these days of specialisation it is possible for a man to do. His style was strong and convincing, characterised more by the force of well-reasoned logic than by any surface brilliancy. As a well-informed man on all questions and an intelligent reader and deep thinker his advice was often sought and cheerfully given. He was exceptionally accurate, one of the results, probably, of his liking for various branches of exact science. This love of precision and accuracy was exhibited in all his relationships. It was typical and characteristic of the man as well as the journalist. He was singularly clear in his judgment and very tenacious in respect to anything on which after full consideration he had definitely formed an opinion. His memory was most retentive and carried one back to the half-forgotten periods of our history when men long since dead were active factors in our young national life, whilst his magnetic personality at once commanded the esteem and respect of all who came under his beneficent influence and learned to love him. By them his memory will be revered and live long in their affections. And he was a man who never sought ostentation and no man ever aimed less at self-aggrandisement, for in both private and public life he was content to do his duty without blare of trumpet or beat of drum. Though his fortune was somewhat varied, he was always generous and lenient, and being careless of things earthly had often to struggle to make ends meet in a commercial sense. In the early 90's, with the frequent floods and the financial crisis, with depreciation of all property, he, like others, had again to surrender property on which he had expended most of his savings.

For three and a half years after the Star became a daily paper Mr. Hewitt worked harder than over, averaging over 12 hours a day. Indeed all through life he was a tremendous worker never idle until he was stricken down with paralysis in December, 1910, since when he has led a quiet, contemplative life. He was resigned to his affliction which he bore without murmur or complaint whatever, for as he wrote:

"Truly God hath ways that we cannot tell, He hides them deep like the hidden sleep."

Now his active brain is still'd "and the rest is silence." His greatest happiness was derived in assisting his friends, for he was unselfish to a fault, whilst his charity was only bounded by his purse, and so it could be said of him : "He wore the white lily of a blameless life." He was a firm, loyal friend and a man who could look the whole world in the face, for he had proved a friend to all and an adversary to none. One of his last acts was to provide and erect at his own cost a monument in the U.C. cemetery here to Patrick McDonnell, who had faithfully discharged some minor duties for him. Mr. Hewitt know the history of these districts as no other man did and he had much matter in preparation for a work on the pioneers and early history of these rivers, which he had intended publishing shortly had he been spared. He is another of those who worked strenuously all through life, looking forward to some years of leisure, but when realisation of hope seemed at hand, have been called away. Whenever a worthy man or woman died his pen was active in extolling the virtues of the departed. Now that he has passed away who shall do justice to the recording of his own remarkable life?

"His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up to all the world and say: this was a man."

Throughout his long life he followed as closely as possible the teachings and in the footsteps of the Man of Nazareth. He realised to the full the command: "If it be possible as much as lieth within thee, live peaceably with all men," and to:

Love thyself last,
The world shall be by thee made better.
If this brief motto form thy creed,
Go; follow it in spirit and in letter;
This is the Christ religion which men need.

His noble and unselfish work in these districts is too well known to need further enumeration. Doubtless he made mistakes, but no man ever felt that fact more fully than he. The tragedy of life is that there are always friendly hands to greet us when the sun of prosperity shines and the tide of popularity is at its flood, but there are very few hands to grip ours with undiminished tenderness when mistakes are made and popularity wavers. The extent of his good work and deeds probably no one fully knew. Though possessed of a splendid constitution despite the hardships of his early station life he was a strong man up till a few years ago. Just about seventeen years ago he lost his youngest son under extremely sad circumstances at Byron Bay, and this was a severe blow to Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt. The latter never fully recovered from the loss of the child to whom she was greatly attached, and passed away on September 28th, 1904, at the age of 61 years. The loss of a most devoted partner was keenly felt by Mr. Hewitt, and this was the beginning of the end.

Since June last Mr. Tewitt had been practically confined to bed.

It was evident to his family and intimate friends that he was failing for some days past, and he recognised this himself. We can well believe his fervent prayer to have been, "Lord let Thy servant depart in peace." Having all his family at hand they bade him a tender farewell, and then with no fear for the hereafter he shortly afterwards at 12.20 at midday yesterday passed peacefully away with calmness and Christian hope and resignation full of years and the honors of a well-lived life esteemed by all for his sterling character and unswerving rectitude in life. His passing was like the meeting of sea and sky on a soft, hazy day, when none can tell where the earth ends and the sky begins. Truly the final call to him was "a passing from death into life."

He was one who to the last could say with Whittier -

"When on my day of life the night is falling,
And in the winds from unsunned spaces blown,
I hear far voices out of darkness calling
My feet to paths unknown.
Suffice it is my good and ill unreckoned
And both forgiven through Thy abounding grace-
I find myself by hands familiar beckoned
Unto my fitting place!"
And "he is not dead-he sleepeth."

One cannot indulge in vain regrets for our friends taken after they have passed the Psalmist's allotted span of life. They are garnered in like shocks of corn ripe for the Reaper, and we can only regret the district is made poorer by the loss of a worthy man, and in these very words the deceased expressed his sentiments in regard to the passing of another good, man.

Thus passes away one of the truest men and best citizens these districts ever possessed, but his memory will always have a warm place in the many hearts and affections of its people, and this will be a fitting memorial.

In the words of one writer of two centuries ago it can truly be said of him "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die" but "after life's fitful fever he sleeps well."

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'Hewitt, Thomas George (1841–1915)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hewitt-thomas-george-14158/text25169, accessed 16 June 2019.

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