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Jones, Thomas Fletcher (1838–1929)

Mr. Thomas Fletcher-Jones passed peacefully away in his sleep at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Robert Pidgeon, 70 Patrick Street, Hobart, about 9 o'clock on Saturday morning, in his ninety-second year. He was the first boy to be apprenticed with the late Mr. John Davies, proprietor of The Mercury, in 1854, a few months after the paper had begun to appear twice a week. With a break of two years spent in Launceston at the end of his apprenticeship, he remained on the mechanical staff of The Mercury for 59 years, until he retired on a pension.

Mr. Jones was a keen and efficient worker, and at one time was head machinist, managed the store, and attended to all cutting of paper. Until a few months ago he was bright and cheerful, and in his own quiet way could paint a lively word-picture of the early days of Hobart Town. He used to tell of the first beginnings of The Mercury, 75 years ago, in a little room so low that a man could hardly stand upright in it, where four men, working with a small hand-press, printed copies of the paper from the formes of hand-set type. The circulation was about 500, and it took two hours to print them. This task at an end, three of the four men set about to deliver the papers. Mr. Jones accompanied The Mercury through the many trials of those early days, saw the application of each new device to the business, and witnessed the developments which, little by little, transformed the modest news sheet into a modern newspaper. In the changed world which the veteran printer lived to see, he kept a wonderful freshness of outlook, and was not quite sure that in every way the olden days were the best days. He loved to talk to close friends of the races which he had seen run on the old racecourse at New Town, and of the actors and actresses who had won laurels on the boards of the Theatre Royal. It is now four years since he last went out walking, and he had been bed-ridden for 15 months. But only a few days ago he asked whether there were any races, and until the last was keenly interested in racing. He would say what horses were going to win, and was never far out.

Mr. Jones was the last survivor of a band of volunteers, namely the Second Rifles, formed in Tasmania about 1861. Only recently he was interviewed on the subject of his association with the Second Rifles, and for a man of his age and experience he showed a remarkable tenacity for dates, and could place the sequence of things with only the slightest hesitation. He joined the volunteer movement at a time when it was in a flourishing condition. Almost every town of any size possessed its volunteer unit—New Norfolk, Green Ponds, Glenorchy, the Huon, and other places. The First Rifles were formed during the Crimean War by a band known as the Primitive Order of Oddfellows. Mr. John Davies was responsible for the formation of the Second Rifles, and the Third Rifles was a company consisting of members of the Manchester Unity.

The days he spent in the movement were traced in an interview last June. "I remember the old Second Rifles all right," he said. "I was in a company of rifles before that, but thought I would rather go to dances than drill, and left it. Later some of us at The Mercury were induced to join the Second Rifles, but I did not pay for my uniform. I think Mr. John Davies found the deposit for some of them. They were good uniforms—dark green coat and trousers, and a hat similar to the French military hat. We used to drill in a big weatherboard ballroom on the site of the present Town Hall, and men from the Barracks used to come down there to supervise the instruction. Later, we went to a new drill-hall that was part of the old markets on the site of the City Hall. The men paid so much money on their uniforms and band instruments, but it was given back after they had done so much training. I do not know what became of the band, but Mr. John Davies induced 10 or 12 members of the old 96th Regiment—I think it was—to join the band, and a fine band it was. We were supplied with carbines by the Government. I was not in the Second Rifles very long. As far as I can remember, there was a squabble, and seven or eight of the members left. I kept my uniform and rifle for a long time, but the rifle was eventually commandeered by the Government."

Mr. Jones's wife died 27 years ago. Of his three sons and two daughters only two are left, Mr. G. T. Jones and Mrs. Robert Pigeon, but there are many grandchildren and great-grandchildren living.

Mr. Jones played his part in life with the best that was in him, and was able to enjoy the last 10 years in well-earned ease untinged with bitterness. He won the esteem of all who knew him, and there is widely-felt regret at the sundering of a link with the early days of the city, of which he was a respected citizen.

The funeral will leave 70 Patrick Street for Cornelian Bay Cemetery at half-past 3 this afternoon.

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Citation details

'Jones, Thomas Fletcher (1838–1929)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/jones-thomas-fletcher-14707/text25850, accessed 25 November 2017.

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