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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilson, Thomas Braidwood (1792–1843)

by Gwendoline Wilson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Thomas Braidwood Wilson (1792-1843), medical practitioner and settler, was baptised on 29 April 1792 at Kirknewton, West Lothian, Scotland, son of James and Catharine Wilson. He became a surgeon in the navy in 1815 and later served as surgeon-superintendent on several convict transports bound for New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. He had great success in preserving the lives of convicts under his care by insisting on cleanliness and a daily issue of lime juice and wine. He taught convicts how to read and write, conducted divine service and would not permit 'the slightest slang, flash songs nor swearing', for fear of further personal degradation.

He arrived at Sydney in the Richmond, in May 1822, on his first voyage and was aboard when she was later wrecked in Torres Strait. His next voyages were in the Prince Regent in 1824 and the Mangles in 1826. In that year he married Jane Thompson at Durham; a daughter Mary was born in 1827. In 1829 he was in the Governor Ready on her return voyage when he was again shipwrecked in Torres Strait and with some of the crew rowed 1000 miles (1609 km) to Timor. He left Timor in the Amity which then sailed to the Swan River, where he saw Perth as a straggling tented town and observed that Fremantle was so sandy that it could be run through an hour-glass. With Captain Collet Barker he explored inland from King George Sound; Wilson's Inlet is named after him. On another voyage he arrived in Hobart Town in the John in 1831, bringing with him many European plants and the first hive of bees to survive in Australia.

In 1822 Wilson had been granted land which he selected on the Macquarie River, Van Diemen's Land, and named Janefield. In 1826 he was allowed to transfer this grant to New South Wales, where he was also given 5000 acres (2024 ha) for his explorations in 'the western part of New Holland'. Part of the land chosen by him he called Braidwood, and his original grant was moved a mile (1.6 km) to the east when government surveyors decided that his first choice was the best site for a township. Wilson acquired more land by purchase and lease; he also bought stock and left them with a manager. In London in 1835 he published Narrative of a Voyage Round the World, giving an account of his adventures and commenting on the manners and customs of the Aboriginal tribes with whom he had been on good terms and whose high death rate from European diseases caused him deep concern. In the appendix he commented on the treatment of prisoners in convict transports and praised Australia as a place for intending migrants.

Wilson brought his wife, daughter and son to New South Wales in 1836, his eighth voyage to Australia. They settled at Braidwood, where Wilson won repute for the management of his farm and for his efficiency as a magistrate. He also served on many local committees and took a leading part in the affairs of his district. His wife died on 29 January 1838. In the depression of the early 1840s his health rapidly declined. He became bankrupt in October 1843 and died on 11 November. He was buried on a hill-top overlooking the town of Braidwood.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 17
  • Agnes Hogg, Back to Braidwood Celebrations (Syd, 1925)
  • M. Uren, Land Looking West (Lond, 1948)
  • newspaper indexes under T. B. Wilson (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Mowle papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Rawson papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Gwendoline Wilson, 'Wilson, Thomas Braidwood (1792–1843)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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