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
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 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 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.
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.
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
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.