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West, Thomas (1773–1858)

by Greg Curnow

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Thomas West (1773-1858), convict and landowner, was born on 4 June 1773 at Hooe, Sussex, England, fifth of nine children of John West, farmer, and his wife Margaret. Thomas was a carpenter at Canterbury when he married Martha Goodwin on 8 July 1793 at St Nicholas's Church, New Romney. At the Sussex Assizes, Horsham, on 17 March 1800 he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to transportation for life. He reached Sydney in the Earl Cornwallis in June 1801. His wife—who later remarried—remained in England; one of their sons (Thomas d.1856) migrated as a free settler in 1821.

West formed a liaison with Mary Rugg (c.1769-1865), a convict; they had a daughter in 1805 and a son Obed (1807-1891), who was born on 4 December 1807. Employed in the government lumberyard, Thomas showed entrepreneurial skills by making coffins and reputedly hanging the peal of bells in St Philip's Church. In June 1810 he successfully petitioned Governor Macquarie for permission to erect a watermill in Lacrozia Valley, on land that he named Barcom Glen, surrounded by Darlinghurst, Paddington and Rushcutters Bay. No document of title was issued, however, and the boundaries were vague: the deputy-surveyor James Meehan's 1816 survey indicated only some forty acres (16 ha), but West extended his fences towards Old South Head Road.

On Christmas Eve 1813 West received a conditional pardon, and the gift of a cow from the government herd. Dairying, an orchard and quarrying were added to his growing commercial activities. By 1824 he owned 120 head of cattle. Needing pasture for them, he received from Governor Brisbane a ticket of occupation for 160 acres (65 ha) in the Picton district for which he received title in July 1835. His holdings further increased that year when he obtained a 1280-acre (518 ha) grant, near The Oaks, as an offset from the Crown for quarrying on Barcom Glen.

West's powerful neighbours in Sydney included Alexander McLeay and (Sir) Thomas Mitchell. Discussions on the boundaries, particularly with Mitchell, were unproductive and court action resulted. R. v. West opened in the Supreme Court in October 1831, before Mr Justice John Stephen and a special jury of landholders. West relied on his twenty-one-year unbroken possession of the land as proof of title. The case was seen as emancipist against exclusivist, especially as he was represented by W. C. Wentworth. The jury returned a verdict of 'No intrusion'--a victory for West.

The Australian, co-edited by Wentworth, reported the win as 'foiling Mr. McLeay and his favourites . . . the sharks are outwitted'. Following a review of the case by crown law officers, however, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case again. A compromise, in which West offered to accept a new western boundary, was rejected. In October 1832 the case was retried, with Wentworth again appearing for him. The jury found he had committed a minor trespass on about five acres (2 ha) but held good title to seventy-one acres (29 ha). Although Barcom Glen's boundaries and title had been established, it was not until 1844 that the title deeds were issued.

Determined by nature, short in stature, and thickset, particularly in later life, West was the quintessential 'John Bull' type. His right index finger was missing, a sign of a life spent in physical toil. Thomas died on 21 September 1858 at Burwood and was buried in St John's churchyard, Ashfield. Mary and their two children survived him.

Obed had worked closely with his father in family business affairs from an early age. On 23 December 1831 at St James's Church, Sydney, he married with Anglican rites Jane Margaret Lindsey (d.1875), daughter of a convict. Obed extended the family's land holdings to include tracts, both for farming and speculation, on Sydney's northern peninsula, and goldmining at Hill End. He was 6 ft 4 ins (193 cm) tall and weighed 16 stone (101.6 kg), and won a gold medal for rifle shooting. Late in his life he published articles about his detailed memories of early Sydney in the Sydney Morning Herald. Obed died on 24 August 1891 at Barcom Glen, Paddington, and was buried in Randwick cemetery. His four sons and eight of his nine daughters survived him, inheriting an estate sworn for probate at £74,389; the ninety-nine-year leases of his land at fixed rentals, however, created a legacy of legal complexities for his beneficiaries.

Select Bibliography

  • B. T. Dowd, Thomas West Convict Transportee, 1801 and his Barcom Glen Grant Lacrozia Valley, Darlinghurst (Syd, 1974)
  • E. W. Marriott, Thomas West of Barcom Glen (Bowral, NSW, 1982)
  • E. W. Marriott, The Memoirs of Obed West (Bowral, NSW, 1988)
  • G. L. Curnow, Thomas West, the Yeoman of Barcom Glen (B.A. Hons essay, Australian National University, 1974).

Citation details

Greg Curnow, 'West, Thomas (1773–1858)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/west-thomas-13245/text5287, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 13 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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