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Thomas Tate (1842–1934)

from Townsville Daily Bulletin

A wonderful old man in Mr. Thomas Tate died in Rockhampton on January 27th last. Mr. Tate was in his ninety-third year.

Born in Northumberland he was educated in South Wales, and then proceeded to the Edinburgh University at the age of 17 to study medicine. Four years later, without sitting for his final degree, young Tate accepted the position as doctor (unqualified) on a whaler, and sailed from Peterhead to Spitsbergen, 10 degrees from the North Pole. The voyage unsettled him for further study, and on completion of it he was appointed medical officer to the sailing ship Celeno, bound for Dunedin, New Zealand. That was in 1860 and Mr. Tate was 23 years of age. On arrival in New Zealand he was appointed dispenser to the Invercargil Hospital.

But the gold rushes in Victoria were calling, and finding an educated mate he started mining in New Zealand, and did fairly well, eventually selling out and going to Melbourne, and on arrival, hearing that an expedition was setting out for New Guinea, young Tate offered his services as medico, and was accepted. He left Sydney in the ill-fated Maria in January, 1872. The Maria encountered bad weather and went ashore on Bramble Reef. The captain and six men in a boat headed for the mainland, and a number of the crew left the wreck on two rafts. Mr. Tate was in one of the boats. The rafts were washed ashore at what is now named Maria Creek, where the blacks murdered 10 of them, thirteen men were drowned, and 12 were unaccounted for. There were 76 men all told on the Maria. Mr. Tate was landed on Hinchinbrook Island, eventually got over to Cardwell and subsequently joined Captain Moresby and Lieutenant Smith, of the survey ship Basilisk, in a search for the survivors. In this search they went as far north as the mouth of the Johnstone River, called Glady's Inlet by Captain Moresby, but on Inspector Robert Johnstone, of the Native Police, reporting on the river, which discharged into this inlet, the name of that fine officer was given to it.

Writing of this tragedy and the expedition that it ended, Mr. Tate prophesied that the rich country of the Johnstone would one day become a great sugar area.

It was from the little town of Cardwell that Mr. Tate got in touch with Mr. Hann, then organising an exploration party in the North of Queensland, and he was appointed botanist and naturalist to accompany the party to investigate the interior of Cape York Peninsula.

It was a wonderful experience, and Mr. Tate revelled in the rare botanical treasures he found. The Tate River was named by Mr. Rann after the botanist. Mr. Tate used to tell of how the first gold was found in the Palmer. Mr. Hann had offered a prize of half a pound of tobacco — a valuable price— to the first man to find 'a color.' F. Warner, trying a dish on the Palmer, seeing the glint of gold, yelled out, 'I've won that tobacco.' Thus was the Palmer found, but Mr. Hann was not deeply interested, and so passed on from a field that eventually turned out over £5,000,000 of gold.

The party followed the river for 30 miles and every time they prospected they found gold. The party reached Princess Charlotte Bay, and, finding it practically impossible to travel on the coast, returned, practically on its old route.

It was a rough trip and writing of it in 1873, Mr. Tate said: 'From the first we had been on half rations, and during the last six or seven weeks we were glad to eat snakes, lizards, white ants, etc. You may fancy the quantity of meat we consume daily when a ham was divided into 62 meals for a party of six. We, of course, ate it raw, as it would lose too much vitamin in cooking. When we were reduced to three weeks' supply of food (quarter rations), Mr. Hann deemed it advisable to give up the attempt to reach Cardwell by the coast, and struck for the Palmer. We caught a lot of fish, and secured a kangaroo, a perfect godsend." This expedition occupied eight months.

Mr Tate returned to Maryvale with Mr Hann, and his botanical collection was sent to the Kew Gardens, Melbourne. Later he joined the Educational Department, and in 1874 took charge of his first school at Oakey Creek, where he married Grace Fortune, of Bendigo, Victoria. He was transferred to Jondaryan, where in 1883 his wife died, leaving eight children. Mr. Tate married again.

Later Mr. Tate went to Rocklea where in a big flood he contracted asthma and was transferred to Plains, then to Normanton, and from there to Thursday Island, and at the age of 64 he was sent to take charge of the school at St. Lawrence, where he remained until 1918, and after 40 years at the Educational Department he retired. Since then Mr. Tate had resided in Rockhampton.

He was a grand old Englishman, a man of fine strength both physically and mentally, a man who never required a dentist, and who played a sound game of chess almost to the end. It is to men of the class of Mr. Tate that Australia owes so much, for they had courage, endurance and rare optimism.

Mr. Tate left many descendants, and amongst those living are: Mrs. Geo. Cussons (Charters Towers Road, Townsville) with her three daughters, Mrs. Wynne Schmidt, Misses Beth and Nancy Cussons, and son Laurie Cussons, Mrs. C. Leake (Cranford Station) with son and daughter, Miss Mary and Mr. Charles Leake, Miss G. Tate (Brisbane) and Miss Flo. Tate (Inspector of Telephones, Brisbane). There is only one great grand child, little Julie Ann Schmidt (Mysterton Estate).

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Thomas Tate

Additional Resources

  • Trove search
  • profile, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 22 April 1921, p 8
  • profile, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 4 July 1932, p 6

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Tate, Thomas (1842–1934)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Thomas Tate, n.d.

Thomas Tate, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 157513

Life Summary [details]


Northumberland, England


27 January, 1934 (aged ~ 92)
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

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