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Thomson, James (1824–1899)

We have this week to chronicle the decease of Mr James Thomson, J.P., of Burrier, in this district, at his residence, on Monday last, at the advanced age of 74 years. Mr Thomson's health was generally good, and as he passed off in sleep, to the natural repose of a busy, well spent life, it must be conceded, surely, that such a passing out, since come it must, is most merciful and desirable, compared with racking pains and delirium. Mr Thomson was weak, but cheerful, for a few days before his death, his mind being clear and strong to the last.

The deceased gentleman was born at Launceston, Tasmania, on the 26th of August, 1824. He was son of Lieutenant Thomas Thomson, R.M., and grandson of the Rev. James Thomson, a Scottish Episcopal minister, of Fifeshire. The early part of Mr Thomson's life— the educational period, and some time spent in clerical service of the old Bank of Australia — was spent in Tasmania. Resigning his position in the banking service of the sister colony, he joined his relatives on the maternal side in New South Wales, his mother being Elizabeth, daughter of Mrs Mary Reiby, a virile and heroic woman, many interesting pages of whose diary, illustrating the early life and conditions of the infant colony of New South Wales in the '"twenties," were some few years ago contributed by Mr Thomson to the pages of one of the daily papers. After a short sojourn in Sydney, Mr Thomson, accompanied by the late Mr Andrew Hitchcock as stock-managing partner, came to Burrier, the grant to Mrs Mary Reiby.

After coming to Shoalhaven, the new Constitution for New South Wales, abolishing the Nominee Legislature, and founding the present system of Responsible Government, was issued by the Imperial Parliament. The young and enthusiastic colonist candidated for the representation of the district he was living in, and was returned to the First Parliament, 23rd April, 1848. It was a difficult and risky journey between Sydney and the South Coast in those days, and congenial as were the voices of such men as Deneihey, Donaldson, Wentworth, and Lang, as well as those of many others of that talented and patriotic First Parliament of unpaid scholars and statesman, it behoved the young grazier to look after his personal concerns. Hence he did not seek re-election to the second Parliament.

In 1860 Mr Thomson married Miss Mary Mackenzie, daughter of the late well-known colonist, of the Bundannon Farm, Shoalhaven, and settled permanently on the Burrier Estate, inherited from his maternal relatives, where the family have continued to reside since. The issue of the marriage was five sons and four daughters, of whom three died.

Mr Thomson was for 51 years a magistrate of the colony, and for many responsible years, with the late Drs Mackenzie, Alcorn, and other magistrates, labored for the Crown and the public as magistrate, without fee or reward, save the promptings of a good conscience and a sound judgment. The Courts were first and for many years held at Coolangatta, the late Mr John Faulks, the father of Mr John and the other Faulkses of this district, was police officer, the only one in the district. Numba was afterwards made a place of Petty Sessions Court, as also Nowra, Court in the latter place being held in a log cabin which stood where Mr Greg Wilson's tobacconist shop in Junction-street is built. There were many long and wearying rides from Burrier to be made, but prohibitions and complaints against the 'Justice tempered with mercy' were not heard of.

Personally Mr Thomson was a man of good average natural parts. Early his calling in life took him, as it took most of the men who led in pioneering, away from the stimulating and developing mental influences of society such as was congenial to his taste, but he had a good reserve power of self-control in his sayings, and in his calm deliberate manner there was always the tone of conviction, and of ready grasp of salient points in the question under treatment. Thus the necessary self reliance of the pioneer, with the inherited faculties of his fathers itself became to him, as to many other like-circumstanced colonists, the foundation and the pillar of an honourable and blameless citizenship.

When weighing character and services of such men in the work of colonisation, their younger, and in local circumstance more fortunate, contemporaries sometimes fail to take account of the awful isolation, intellectually and morally speaking, of the conditions of bush life in those colonies at the time such men's characters crystallised into unit force. The magnetic grip of Nature ruled supreme everywhere around them. It was a desperate struggle with an all-pervading, and in the end in many cases, all-prevailing power— Nature, where she sowed herself and reaped unceasingly. With sail-carried messages once a year, or a ship once in three for passengers, there were here in the thirties but few chances of the mentally and morally rehabilitating influences of the 'Trips to the Old Country,' to re-magnetise those who went and those to whom they returned. There was not in those young colony days the hourly vibrations of the Pacific or Atlantic cables pulsating the hearts of the community as now with the throes and throbs of the higher, brighter life of Europe. Here it was hard work, monotonous, tedious drudgery to those of bright and active minds, and emphatically depressing — no more stimulating influence than the solemn undaunted aspect of Nature there and every-where. Compared with the surroundings of the British youth of the like period, with his High Schools, Colleges, University, Divinity Halls, Libraries, and the nervous 'hub' of the great seats of learning, the conditions of young life here in Australia in the 'thirties' were those of Robinson Crusoe on his desert island, with his mill and his oven, to those of the best trained mechanic of Britain, with all its mechanical resources. Therefore, when we look into the moral and mental complexion of our early colonists— men strong of arm and forceful of speech, as became their craft: wrestlers and combatants with Nature in her fastnesses— we must not gird up the skirts of our loins if we do not find here just what the more feather-bed conditions of life now here and in the older lands are favourable to.

The remains of Mr Thomson were interred in the family enclosure on the Estate Cemetery, the Rev. R. Inglis, Presbyterian Minister, of Nowra, officiating. Mr Inglis first held a short service at Burrier House, prayers and gospel reading. Thence the cedar coffin was borne by the deceased gentleman's sons and a grandson on their shoulders to the grave; where Mr Inglis read the solemn and beautiful burial service of the Presbyterian Church.

Our sympathy is with Mrs Thomson and family, who will long miss a husband and parent of cheerful mind not dimmed or vexed by age.

Original publication

Citation details

'Thomson, James (1824–1899)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/thomson-james-28391/text36032, accessed 22 April 2019.

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