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THOMAS PEEL

1793 - 1865

 

 

 

In December 1829 Thomas Peel (who was first cousin of Sir Robert Peel ? the founder of the London Police Force and later a Prime Minister of England.) arrived aboard the ship Gilmore with a group of settlers to start a settlement just south of Woodman Point.

This was just part of what could only be described as a venture of disastrous proportions.
 

Born in Lancashire, England in 1793 (1) , Thomas Jr. was the second son of Thomas Peel Sr. and his wife Dorothy Bolton. His older brother entered the church and Thomas Jr. showed no interest in joining his father's business.

 

Thomas seems to have had a difficult personality and was not liked at school. His father was not enthusiastic about his abilities and seems to have been all too keen to give him an early inheritance when the idea of settling in Western Australia came up.

 

He married Mary Charlotte Dorking Ayrton (circa) 1823 and they had two children, Julia and Thomas. The family lived on an estate at Carnousie in Banffshire, Scotland and there had a third child, Dorothy in 1827.

 

Originally Peel had thought about emigrating to New South Wales but while in London in 1828 he seems to have become aware of James Stirling's desire to get a free settlement started at Swan River. Peel sent a proposal to the Colonial Office on November 14 1828 for his own association to convey 400 people to the new colony in return for large land grants.

 

With rich and powerful relatives, Thomas was accused of being given special treatment but in reality he was given rather a difficult time by the Colonial Office.

 

He attracted some rich partners but after problems with the conditions of land grants and the unexplained disappearance of much of Peel's money, his partners deserted him.

 

Peel made the mistake of being too greedy and asking for land grants totalling 4 million acres. Stirling managed to talk the Colonial Office round to his idea of a privately funded settlement that was still under the overall control of London.


Peel eventually partnered with Solomon Levey, a Jewish ex-convict, who had business interests in Sydney. Levey kept his involvement in the scheme secret and used Peel as the 'front man'.

 

Peel arranged a grant of land of 250,000 hectares providing that he arrived by November 1st 1829. And so he and 400 settlers set off in three ships (Gilmore, Hooghly and Rockingham.) at varying intervals, toward Australia.

The voyage was beset by problems and in the end Peel arrived 6 weeks late on December 15th 1829. Governor Stirling informed Peel that the grant was now void and Peel threatened to return to England with his 400 settlers. (Stirling had been under immense pressure from colonists who were already there to allocate land and this caused him to give Peel's land away.)


Stirling, realising that the new colony was in desperate need of new colonists, sought a compromise and in the meantime the new arrivals were dumped on the coast near the current site of Woodman Point and the site was named Clarence after the heir to the British throne.
 

The site was completely unsuitable for a new settlement and supplies of food were difficult to obtain. There were long delays in surveying land grants and the whole enterprise stagnated.


The second ship, Hooghly arrived in February 1830 and many people lost their possessions in a fire set by Aborigines in the scrub soon after they disembarked.

Finally in May, the Rockingham arrived (without the funds and supplies that Levey was supposed to have sent) in the middle of the first storm of the season. She was driven aground in Mangles Bay. (In Levey's defence it has to be said that malicious reports in some London papers were saying that the Swan River Colony had failed and Stirling has left for Mauritius. Levey was left wondering what to do.)

R.H. Shardlow wrote about the incident in his book 'The Ship Rockingham'.

'Peel, impatient and dissatisfied with the proceedings, ignored the bad weather and made his way out to the ship to 'assist'. He was later accused of having interfered with the handling of the ship...For reasons unknown he ordered all the single men to be sent to Garden Island in four of the ship?s boats. However, they were unable to row against the gale and were blown ashore on the mainland and swamped in the surf. Fortunately there were no casualties.

The ship fared no better. While easing out the cable in order to bring her closer inshore to facilitate unloading, the pitching seas put such a strain on the capstan that it broke.

The ship drifted out of control and ran aground, broadside on...Miraculously all managed to make the shore without loss of life. Fearing the ship would break up the stores were hurriedly brought off and the cattle were swum ashore only to wander off into the scrub.

There was little shelter in Clarence. Most of the people tried to huddle in a small, wooden house washed up from the ship. Others had to sleep in barrels, boxes and under sacks or pieces of canvas.'


Having survived the shipwreck the settlers now had to face a wet cold winter with poor shelter and little provisions. 28 (other sources say 37
(2) ) died from various causes before most moved away to either the Swan River settlement or further south.
 

Peel did not have the temperament to handle the deteriorating situation and was prone to vitriolic outbursts. There is some suggestion that he was involved in a duel with a naval officer (possibly the Captain of the Rockingham) during which he received a permanent injury to his right hand. It is evident that his style of writing changed dramatically and he was absent from the settlement for some time while he recuperated on Garden Island. The injury seems to have been put down to a hunting accident at the time but this would not be surprising as duels were illegal.


The settlers had ?signed on? with Peel and he held sway over them. It was not until Governor Stirling stepped in that the settlers were freed to do as they chose. Stirling wrote to Peel:

?Had the Magistrates given a contrary order and compelled your people to remain in your service they would have acted illegally, for such an order would have been equivalent to Sentence of Death by Starvation.?

Undaunted Peel struck out again, this time for an area near Mandurah and some of his original followers went with him. His wife and family arrived in 1834 and for a time he looked like he had put the past bad luck behind him. By all accounts it was the happiest time of his life but it did not last. By 1839 his wife had had enough and returned to England with their two daughters. Peel struggled on but misfortune dogged him and his estate began to dwindle.

 

Peel was now in debt to the Government to the tune of 3125 pounds and he could not afford to return to England. His partnership with Levey had ended with Levey's death in 1833 but it was not to be until 1851 that the arrangement was finally brought to an amicable conclusion with Levey's son.

 

To clear his debts, Thomas surrendered 7364 acres of his grant at 5 shillings an acre. Three years later it was found that Peel did not have clear title to all the land he had returned to the Government.

 

Peel was appointed to the Legislative Council and became a magistrate but his difficult nature surfaced again when a fellow magistrate (Capt. Singleton) found against him in a court case and a duel was narrowly averted. No one would agree to serve with Peel on the bench and after a formal rebuke from the Governor, Peel handed in his resignation from the Legislative Council and as a magistrate.

 

When Thomas' elder daughter and his wife both died of consumption (T.B.) within months of each other, his younger daughter Dora, (who had been living in France) returned to W.A. in February 1858 and looked after Thomas for his remaining years.

After visiting Peel?s house
Marshall Waller Clifton wrote: ?Everything about Peel?s house bespeaks wretchedness and want of comfort.? Clifton was to become good friends with Peel and the two men would regularly visit each other.

 

Writing of Peel, H. M. Lefroy wrote: 'I never saw disappointed ambition and corroding care so strongly marked on any man's face as his.'

 

The 'luck' of the Peels seems to have made its way down to his son Thomas Jr. who after 15 years of hard work building up a farm at Serpentine, lost the lot when a carelessly discarded match destroyed an excellent grain crop and with no capital to fall back on the farm was re-possessed to pay off debts.

 

Peel died a poor man on December 21 1865 (reportedly from eating too many figs although we have found nothing to substantiate this), his dreams of the city of Clarence over. The BP oil refinery now stands on the site he originally chose. (Coincidently James Stirling also died the same year back in England but his life had been substantially different to Peel?s.)

 

On his death his three remaining children (Thomas Jr., Frederick and Dorothy Ann) inherited the remaining estate. Tom never recovered from the loss of the farm at Serpentine and died aged 67 in 1892. Dorothy, or Dora as she was known had to wait until her father died to marry Henry Hastings Hall and they had a single son, Leslie Peel Hall.

 

Peel had seen his ambition dissolve in front of him. He seems to have had more than just a fair share of bad luck but his inability to deal with crisis situations and a lack of patience and tact never helped his case.

 

Described as a 'woolly headed idealist' Peel did not rise to his own expectations but he certainly may have had some early influence in government circles and this may have helped Stirling get the idea of a new colony accepted in London. He must have been a man of strong character in one sense, as he could have returned to England and given up his dreams, but in the end he stayed in the land he had chosen as his new home. It is also true that the foundling colony benefited greatly from the arrival of 400 new members and that these people went on to serve the country in many and varied ways.

 

Peel's misfortune certainly reached many ears and Karl Marx wrote of him in Das Kapital:

 

Mr. Peel, he moans, took him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of 50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 300 persons of the working-class, men, women, and children. Once arrived at his destination, 'Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.' Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River.

 

 

I'm lost please take me home...