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Samuel Tomkinson (1816–1900)

from South Australian Register

All sections of the community will receive with feelings of sincere regret the news of the death of the Hon. Samuel Tomkinson, M.L.C., who expired at "Selma,'' Fitzroy, at 4 o'clock on Thursday morning. The deceased gentleman had been seriously ill for nine weeks prior to his death, but his condition improved so considerably nine or ten days ago that he was able to walk about. Dr. J. A. G. Hamilton, who attended him, states that he was suffering from kidney disease, and when on the road to recovery had a severe relapse. The funeral will take place on Saturday morning. On Thursday morning the Albert Bells at the Town Hall were tolled in memory of the deceased legislator and Alderman.

Full of years, the Honourable Samuel Tomkinson, M.L.C, has passed away, and the whole community mourns the loss of one deeply respected for unimpeachable integrity, and regarded by all as the soul of honour. Who has seen and not admired the veteran colonist, as, with erect carriage and courtly bearing, he walked down the street with the firmness of a man in the full vigour of life. From legislative halls, from municipal chambers, from the arena of public affairs Mr. Tomkinson will be missed. He was admired for his admirable tenacity to principle, revered for his reverence to Queen and religion, honoured as an honourable English gentleman. In all matters affecting the welfare of the colony his motto invariably was—''Hasten slowly,'' and his strongest opponents always credited him with sincerest motives. No man set himself more strongly against the agitating and disturbing influences of socialistic proposals; and he has fought many hard battles, without so much as one bitter word, for the faith that was within him. The deceased gentleman was eighty-four years of age on April 25 last, and his vitality was extraordinary. He fulfilled his engagements as a member of the Legislative Council and Alderman for the City until the very end. The debate on the Address-in-reply was the occasion of his last speech in Parliament. The words of his friend, the late Hon. Dr. Campbell, may fittingly be applied to him—"He fell as a ripe sheaf of corn." Only on August 15 he dictated from his sick-bed and signed with a quavering hand the last of his almost innumerable series of letters to The Register—an epistle in which pathetic reference was made to his illness; and only on Monday last a paper written by him was read at the meeting of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society. A coincidence worth noting is that the late Hon. Dr. Campbell, like himself, directed to The Register one of the last letters which he wrote, and in both the overmastering thought of principle prevailed even under the shadow of death.

To latter-day South Australians the late Mr. Tomkinson was known principally as a legislator, but from his arrival in the colony in 1851 he had been one of Adelaide's acknowledged financial experts. After a training as clerk in the office of a West Indian merchant in Liverpool—whither he crossed from his native county, Denbighshire, Wales—he entered the North and South Wales Bank as first teller in 1836, being then twenty years of age. His promotion was rapid, and in turn he filled the offices of Chief Accountant, Inspector, and Manager, and finally became a Director. In this capacity he proceeded to London in 1847 to watch the Bank's interest through the great financial crisis which affected England at that time. Three years later he accepted the offer of the position as Manager of the Bank of Australasia in Sydney. He did not stay long in the New South Wales capital, and 1851 found him conducting the business of the Bank of Australasia in the metropolis of South Australia as successor to the late Mr. Marshall Mc- Dermott, whose daughter he married. Mr. Tomkinson was soon well known in this city, for he rode with Mr. F. H. Dutton, and Mr. C. Neville Bagot to enquire into the permanency of the Victorian goldfields. The journey was made to Ballarat and Mount Alexander and on to Melbourne. When the party returned to this colony they found that owing to so many people having departed for the fields the Banks were short of coin. To overcome the difficulty a Bill was introduced into Parliament to make uncoined gold a legal tender, but Mr. Tomkinson felt strongly on the matter, and with him to feel strongly was to act. He petitioned the Legislature against the measure on the ground that it was an infraction of the Charter of the Bank of Australasia, and when, in spite of his protest, the Bill became law he showed his characteristic loyalty to principle by paying off the Bank's circulation and liabilities in the current coin of the realm. He held his position as Bank Manager to the extreme length of service allowed by the regulations, and when in October, 1879, he retired from active duty the Directors, recognising the great value of his services, recommended the shareholders to vote him a liberal pension. At the next annual meeting £1,000 a year was assigned to him. He has been a Director of the Bank of Adelaide, and of the South Australian Gas as well as other Companies. He never shirked any duty which he undertook to fulfil or which fell to his lot, and a little incident is related by one of his intimate friends in this regard. As a Director of the Baker's Creek Goldmining Company he, about twelve months ago, had to visit the mine. His friends endeavoured to dissuade him from making a journey involving days of travel into the heart of New South Wales. He did not hesitate, however, and accomplished the task safely. In April of this year, as a member of the Renmark and Murray River Settlements Royal Commission, Mr. Tomkinson went on an arduous trip to Victoria, where the labour settlements of the eastern colony were inspected. At the taking of the evidence he filled the place of the Premier as Chairman. He was ever careful of the public purse, and on all occasions raised his voice against wasteful expenditure of money. A favourite means of communication with the community was through the columns of the Press. In this connection he never wrote without signing his own name, and, as we have indicated, his communications to The Register were legion. It might be added, too, that they never lacked a wide circle of appreciative readers.

From the time of his youth the deceased gentleman was an ardent politician. In Liverpool he fought side by side with Colonel Thompson, John Bright, and Richard Dobden for the repeal of the Corn Laws, and when he was freed from his duties as Bank Manager he, at 64 years of age, unsuccessfully endeavoured to win the Assembly seat for Gumeracha from Mr. John Rounsevell. Nothing daunted he tried again, and sat for Gumeracha from 1881 to 1884. At the general elections in that year he was defeated, and after vainly contesting Mount Barker and Albert for the Assembly he stood for the Southern District in the Legislative Council in 1885 and gained the seat. After serving the full term of nine years he sought for the Central District suffrages in 1894, but they were denied him. When the next Upper House elections came round in 1897 the veteran Parliamentarian, at 81 years of age, brought his campaign to a successful issue by securing the second position on the poll. He was always gentlemanly and courteous to the rival candidates, and full of the spirit which never knows when it is beaten. Few men who have passed 80 years would have the inclination, much less the vigour, to go through the trouble and turmoil of an election. The secret of Mr. Tomkinson's success was that he never believed himself to be as old as he really was—because he never felt his age. One of his friends speaking on the point said—''He was so wonderfully well that he did not seem to recognise that the time would come when he would have to give up all public duties." In fact age was a rather delicate subject with him, and a little scene enacted in the City Council was thoroughly characteristic of the man. At the meeting after March 25 the worthy Alderman was congratulated on attaining his eighty-fourth year. He protested, and said a mistake had been made, but did not tell his colleagues that his anniversary day was on April 25. He was also averse to flattery. After one election a reporter of The Register asked him for a few biographical particulars. The reply was that nothing would be given because "far too much is made of public men." He added —"Whatever you do write I would like to see, so that I may erase all nauseous adjectives." No man in the colony was more genuinely respected than he. It was with him a matter of conscience to exercise to the full his privileges as an elector, and he spared no pains to record his vote and to persuade others to do likewise. The fact that his views were not always popular made no difference to him, and his fearlessness and courage at all times won the unbounded admiration of friends and foes.

For many years after he arrived in the colony Mr. Tomkinson was closely identified with the Volunteer Force, in which he attained the rank of corporal. He was an ardent believer in the volunteer movement, and took advantage of every opportunity to urge his friends to join. One position of which he was proud was the Chairmanship of the Adelaide Licensing Bench, which he held for over twenty years. He was associated with many relief funds, notably the Crimean war, Indian mutiny, Irish distress, and Lancashire (during the American Civil War). For very many years, and to the day of his death, he was a prominent member of the Adelaide Club and of the Old Colonists' Association, of which later institution he was at the time of his demise Honorary Treasurer. As a member of Parliament he was always ready to assist at Royal Commission enquiries, and in this connection, as in every other particular, he rendered excellent service to the land of his adoption. At social gatherings he was a prominent figure, and wherever he went he carried with him the geniality of the fine old English gentleman, "all of the olden time." He was ever a true Churchman, and took a prominent part as a member of the Anglican portion of the community. In 1851 he became connected with Trinity Church, North-terrace, and has filled the various offices of Sidesman, Churchwarden, Synodsman, and Trustee. After he took up his residence at Mount Lofty he worshipped at the Church of the Epiphany, Craters, and represented that Church in Synod, but when, in the winter months, he lived on the plains, Trinity Church was his choice. It is interesting to note that the deceased gentleman was the first to sign the original Synodal roll.

The life character of a community is moulded by its public men, and in the hands of sculptors like Mr. Tomkinson can be shaped for lasting good. He who has gone from our midst was of the old school, true to himself, and therefore true to every one. The cause of individual thrift and enterprise never lacked a champion while Mr. Tomkinson was alive, and his rare virtue of singleness of purpose carried him through all obstacles. Not for a moment did he ever swerve from the end he had in view. The colony is the poorer by his death, but he leaves behind a wealth of sage counsel.

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Citation details

'Tomkinson, Samuel (1816–1900)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Samuel Tomkinson, c1865

Samuel Tomkinson, c1865

State Library of South Australia, B 23353

Life Summary [details]


25 April, 1816
Wrexham, Wrexham, Wales


30 August, 1900 (aged 84)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

Cultural Heritage

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