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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Thomas Swallow (1823–1890)

Writing of the demise of Mr. Thomas Swallow, who expired at Hambledon House on Thursday last, it may truly be said that not only did the sad event cast a gloom over the town, almost paralysing business for three days, but that the loss of so prominent a man was regarded by the whole district as a public calamity. Mr. Swallow, accompanied by Mrs. Swallow, arrived in Cairns by the Birksgate on the 22nd June, and the state of his health causing considerable anxiety to his family Drs. Brown and Koch were summoned. These gentlemen, pronounced Mr. Swallow to be in a very precarious condition from inflammation of the lungs. Dr. Ahearne, of Townsville, was then telegraphed for, and he arrived on Thursday morning only to find that the patient had expired at 8 am. It is not for us to attempt to depict the grief occasioned amongst the family of the deceased by the sad occurrence. Very many people are aware of the grand height he had reached as a husband and father, and can imagine the desolation caused by the sudden bereavement. As journalists we can only relate the sorrow evinced by the district, and that that was sincere and general is beyond all doubt; and the public demonstration for the three sad days which elapsed between the death and the removal of the remains to Melbourne cannot fail to afford the family of the deceased a tender satisfaction. It would, however, be strange indeed if the people of Cairns were cold to the memory of Mr. Swallow, for it is no empty boast to assert that he made the district what it is at present. And the Cairns of today and the Cairns of 1880(?), when Mr. Swallow first arrived on the look out for a fitting theatre for sugar cultivation, are two very different places. After a see-saw sort existence, during which the scanty population alternated between Cairns, Smithfield and Port Douglas, the year of 1881 found Cairns at its lowest ebb. People were clearing away at this time for good; and the Queensland National Bank, seeing no hope of financial resurrection, had issued circulars informing their clients that their accounts would be closed by a certain date, as the bank intended to shift to fresh scenes and pastures new. At this time it is stated that Cooktown remittances for Cairns were forwarded to the Port Douglas branch, at such an acune of dullness the town had arrived. At this period of depression, when all hope of revival seemed to be at an end, Mr. Swallow arrived, and, like the wonderful alchemist of industry that he was, brought order out of chaos. He selected on the Mulgrave road, and with the energy peculiar to genius, he soon had the axe busy felling scrub, men active in planting cane, and others hurrying onward the erection of a vast sugar mill. The Queensland National Bank changed its mind about closing, and not only remained open but increased the staff and extended the hours of business. From that time to the present Cairns has never looked back. Mr. Loridan followed Mr. Swallow's example and started the Pyramid Plantation, then one by one other people arrived, some with capital, some with brains and a few with both, but they one and all followed in the wake of Mr. Swallow, and in him the people of Cairns gratefully acknowledge the founder of their district as it stands to-day. It has been said that "a man's good deeds are his best monument," and in this sense Mr. Swallow has left a magnificent memorial behind him. A large employer of labour he was yet a man of the people, and his employes not only respected but loved him. Detesting the loafer he respected the toiler, and in asking a fair day's work for a fair day's pay he saw that the pay was fair. Indeed the time, when a vast amount of labour was employed at the plantation in the erection of the mill, is still ???????? of Cairns. Always particularly considerate in the treatment of coloured labour, it is no wonder that he was the idol of the plantation hands, and when he died their grief was evident. Not only the managing partner in the firm of Messrs. Swallow and Derham of Hambledon, he was the chief guiding spirit in the well-known firm of Messrs. Swallow and Ariel, of Melbourne, until the late firm was formed into a limited liability company, and even then his services were retained as managing director. It is estimated that at the time of his death he had over a thousand employes under his control, including of course, the Cairns plantation and the vast Melbourne business. He held the rank of honorary major in the Sandridge artillery, and was on the commission of the peace in Victoria and Queensland. A scheme of reciprocity between Queensland and Victoria had always been a favourite measure with Mr. Swallow, and he was consistent in his efforts in any cause calculated to advance the interest of Cairns. He leaves a family of three sons and three daughters, vis. William, Thomas and John Swallow, and Mrs. Derham (wife of the Postmaster-General of Victoria), Mrs. O. M. Williams (of Hambledon), and Mrs. Lightfoot (of Melbourne). To Mrs. Swallow, the true help meet of so many years of married life, the loss of her husband has been overwhelming. Joys and sorrows were alike to this twain, they were all shared. Mr. Swallow, travelled nowhere without his devoted wife.

The removal of the remains was fixed for 2 o'clock, and shortly before this a large number of people, including about 60 members of the Masonic body, arrived to fulfil the last office of respect to the dead. The Masonic fraternity included, amongst many others, brothers W. M. Atkinson, P. M. Cochrane, P. M. Duffin, P. M. J. O'Leary, P. M. C. Hurry, and brothers Buchanan, Gordon, Anderson, A J. Draper, E. C. M. Draper, Telford, C. Middlemiss, P. Middlemiss, Trumble, Connor, John Gordon, Craig, Smith, Bulcock, Hides, Cope, Chard, Lee, Thomas, Bain, Stewart and Wilkinson. Ranged in double tiers at the entrance to the house the Masons waited until the coffin appeared, which, covered with beautiful flowers and borne by the employes of the plantation at their own urgent request, passed through the ranks and under the uplifted wands, and so on to the foot of the hill where the hearse was waiting. The chief mourners were William and Thomas Swallow, O. M. Williams and W. C. Smith. In buggies and on horseback were many old friends of the deceased, whose name was legion, not only amongst the selectors of the district but the business men of the town. Space will not permit more than a glance at the names of the representative men, such as Messrs W. Collinson. T. Mackey, D. Patisson, J. Forbes, A. Street. Jos. Ryan W. McKnight, A. Grant, Major Fanning. E. A. Milford, W. D. Holburn, J. Carr, R. T. Hartley, W. D. Mackenzie (manager Pyramid Plantation). Mills, Garraway, McDonald, McQuir, and Herman. The names of many old friends have already been mentioned in the list of Masons. As soon as the melancholy cortege had started a regiment of kanakas employed on the plantation filed out from behind the hill and joined the procession. Tears were streaming down the dusky faces of many of them for the good old master whose kindly voice they would never hear again. Amongst the boys were many old hands, some who had renewed engagement voluntarily, and others who had crossed the seas a second time to rejoin the place where they had ever been treated with sympathy and kindness. Skippers of labour vessels readily acknowledge the fact that it was ever an easy task to recuit for the Hambledon Plantation and that the name of Swallow had a charm amongst the dusky islanders of the South Seas, which had only been gained by a systematic course of considerate treatment of labour. A strong contingent of the Chinese gardeners, nearly all remarkably well mounted, made up the procession. It was one of the most impressive scenes that ever it had been our lot to witness, and the contrast between the appearance of the plantation and its usual hum of activity could not fail to strike the beholder in the most forcible manner. Here was the great mind which had originated this vast concern, this busy hive of human industry now lying low, and being borne away from the theatre of his vast labour for evermore. The moving cortege winding its way along the serpentine paths of the plantation was the only sign of life visible. The mill was silent, the canefields were at rest, and even nature itself seemed as if in mourning for the great guiding spirit it had lost. The fruit cultivation, extended and perfected by Mr. William Swallow, had never been seen by the deceased, the improvements having been effected during his three years absence in Melbourne, and on his return no time was left him for inspection. Poor William Swallow had found his work a labour of love in looking forward to the time when his father would examine and say "Well done." The chill of disappointment when it came was naturally felt very keenly and bitterly. At the gates of the plantation the kanakas dropped sorrowfully out of the procession, and the cortege commenced its march towards the town. The events of the journey into Cairns are easy to relate; at every point along the road the number swelled, and by the time the 4-mile was reached fully 500 persons were following. The arrangements along the road were under the charge of the junior warden, brother Telford, and he fulfilled his task faithfully and well. Ontside the town the members of Cairns Garrison Battery, under Captain B. A. Tills, the Cairns Cadets under Captain McCoombe, and the Cairns Town Band under Bandmaster Chaytor were waiting, and joining in, the procession proceeded to the solemn strains of the Dead March. By this time the cortege was an immense one, and included the Mayor of Cairns, Mr. Callaghan Walsh, and Messrs. Redden, Claydon, Slade and others. Advancing towards St. John's Church the mourners were joined by a further large number of people on foot and it is estimated that fully 1000 must have been present as the coffin, carried again by the Hambledon employes, was taken into the building and laid in the chancel.

The capacious building of St John's Church was filled to its utmost capacity, but place being given to the ladies, hundreds of men had, perforce, to remain outside. The choir was unusually well filled, and, with Mr. J. C. Slade at the organ, the choral part of the service was admirably performed. The service was conducted by the Rev. Oscar Hill, the incumbent, whose impressiveness was accentuated by visible emotion. At the conclusion of the service Mr. Hill, in addressing the congregation, said—My dear friends, in a solemn gathering of this kind, it cannot fail to be of great consolation to the wife and the sons and daughters of our departed friend, to know of the heartfelt sorrow shown by the people of Cairns. I know you are all well aware of the sterling and generous qualities he possessed. It is certain the great demonstration of to-day was called forth by some good characteristics, inasmuch as the number of people giving an expression of their opinion proves it. I know we all feel the loss of Mr. Swallow as a private citizen very keenly. While I speak to you of our religion it is my trust you will take a hopeful view of the life to come, looking up to the Man of Sorrows who does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. In conclusion I will quote the following verse–

"Shed not in vain the silent tear,
Nor weep with deep regret.
'Tis but the casket that is dead,
The gem is sparkling yet."

The church was lighted, the chandeliers being draped in crape. The Masons left their twigs of evergreen, symbolical of their own burial service, on the bier, and the congregation slowly melted away, leaving the remains until the time came for removing them on board the Arawatta.

In parenthesis we may mention the mourning emblems draped in the church remained in position at both morning and evening services on Sunday. On each occasion the incumbent preached sermons bearing on the deceased, the organ playing the Dead March at the conclusion of each service.

The A.U.S.N. Co.'s steamer Arawatta was due to arrive at Burns, Philp and Co.'s wharf at 9 o'clock, and punctually enough the magnificent boat, aglow with electric lights, was seen approaching its destination. Slowly but majestically the huge structure neared the wharf, and under the skilful handling of Captain Hampton was shortly afterwards safely moored alongside. The wharf had been kept clear by orders of the local manager of Burns, Philp and Co. After events, however, proved that all the arrangements for a clear passage for the procession along the wharf to the steamer were abortive. The funeral cortege arrived at the wharf at 10 o'clock, and the coffin covered with the Union Jack, and headed by the Masonic Body in full regalia, proceeded on its march to the Arawatta. But as soon as the procession entered, the public entered also; and all pre-concerted arrangements were laid in the dust. Perhaps this was best. A crowd on the wharf regretfully watching the last of the man who had been a benefactor to many and a friend to all, the remains being tended with loving care by the Masons, was a fitting end for the greatest and best man Cairns had ever enrolled amongst her citizens. The bright moonlight had never looked down on a more solemn or impressive scene in Cairns. The Masons stood on deck bareheaded watching the remains being lowered into the hold, the people on the wharf looked tearfully on, and as the crowd dispersed the water rippling past the Arawatta. was left to murmur a requiem.

Original publication

Citation details

'Swallow, Thomas (1823–1890)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


Maidenhead, Berkshire, England


26 June, 1890 (aged ~ 67)
Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


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