Fremantle Stuff > people > Thomas William John Corrigan (1826-1905)
Thomas Corrigan stabbed his wife Louisa through the heart on Boxing Day 1855. He was condemned to hang, but the Home Secretary commuted his sentence to transportation after receiving many petitions in his favour, including one from Louisa's family. He was drinking heavily then, and may have been suffering from delirium tremens at the time of the murder.
He arrived on the Nile in 1858, and received his ticket of leave 1861, after which he led an exemplary life. He married Mary, one of the daughters of leading citizens William and Mary Pearse. He was a journalist and editor. He was also one of the founders of the Working Man's Association in 1862, and then when it joined with the Mechanics Institute in 1868 to form the Literary Institute, he was the Secretary of that organisation.
On Boxing Day, 1855, Thomas Corrigan, who had been drinking heavily, stabbed and killed his wife Louisa, mother of his four young girls. He lived in Bethnal Green, London, and was a foreman with the East India Company. He was arrested and sent to Newgate Prison. At his trial at the Old Bailey the jury convicted him of wilful murder, and he was sentenced to hang on February 25th, 1856.
In 1863, the same Thomas Corrigan was Honourable Secretary of the Working Man’s Association in Fremantle. A few years later the Association joined with the Mechanics Institute to form the Fremantle Literary Institute, with Corrigan as one of the founding Secretaries. He owned two blocks of land in the town, and had started an auction house in High Street. He was also Associate Editor of the Fremantle Herald.
From condemned man to upright citizen in just a few years: how did this happen? Firstly, because the jury pleaded for leniency. So too did his friends. His action was said to be out of character. A public campaign was mounted in his support. The Newgate chaplain, John Davis, wrote in his 1856 annual report: “I never saw a man, while a prisoner in Newgate, whose entire conduct was more correct than Thomas Corrigan”. Petitions and letters were sent from all over the country to the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, who accepted the case, and two days before the execution date Queen Victoria granted him a reprieve.
Corrigan was transported, instead, to the Swan River Colony for life. He sailed on the Nile, where he experienced a religious conversion. On board with him was Bishop Hale, on his way to becoming Bishop of Perth, and Hale may have played a role in his transformation. As Corrigan later wrote to Davis:
"The transition from the misery in Newgate to the joy in Australia is beyond the power of my poor pen to express. Suffice it to say, that I have found Christ, and that whereas I was once blind, now I see."
Probably, too, his oldest daughter, Jane, played a part. Before he left London, he saw his daughters, and Jane, aged nine, told him “I always pray to God to bless, and love you, father dear!” He had sworn off drink, and was deeply remorseful.
Even while still in Fremantle Prison he was able to work as a writer for the Lithographic Press, as the Herald was first known. Bishop Hale recommended him for good conduct to Governor Kennedy, who freed him on a ticket of leave in 1861.
When Governor Weld arrived on his first visit to Fremantle in 1869, the banner outside Corrigan’s auction house said “The Queen, the Colony, and Weld For Ever”. There seems to have been some debate about whether the Associate Editor of the Herald should attend on the new Governor.
By 1870 Corrigan was so well accepted in the community that he could advertise himself as rent and debt collector for 28 Fremantle business houses. He was on friendly terms with the two leading clergy, the Anglican George Bostock and the Congregationalist Joseph Johnston. He married Mary Pearse, daughter of the well-known Pearse family.
Corrigan was the recording clerk in a public inquiry into the deaths in 1867 of the Fremantle Harbour Master, James Harding, and five men, who went out to help the barque Strathmore in a storm but had their own boat overturned. (My great-great-grandfather, John Tapper, a whaler, went out with a crew to rescue them, but was unable to help.) Thomas's writing abilities must have been the reason he had this role.
The Herald became so named in 1867, so Thomas Corrigan would have been one of those in at the beginning. The three founders of the Herald were ex-convicts. In 1870, Thomas and his wife Mary and their two sons left Fremantle for Brisbane, where he became a newspaper editor.
What about his four girls? They had been in the care of a London orphanage supported by the Ancient Order of Foresters, of which Thomas was a member. Three of the girls came to Western Australia. One, Harriet, married William Langridge, the son of another reformed convict. She was my mother’s father’s mother.
Much later Thomas returned to Perth. (I don’t know whether Mary also came.) He was a much-loved Sunday School teacher at St Andrew’s Church in Subiaco until just before his death in 1905 aged 80. There is a plaque to his memory on the church wall there.
He was a religious man. As early as 1859 he could say:
[…] God has been with me all along. It is to Him I owe everything. […] I never thought it was possible I could become so changed, and yet I feel there is much more yet to be done; but He who has begun the good work, will, I am sure, complete it unto the end; and there is my crown of rejoicing.
The story tells us something also about community acceptance in the Fremantle of his time.
Alan Tapper acknowledges that his cousin Julia Sullivan first told him of this story.
Many thanks to Alan Tapper for the story above. See also the page for John Tapper.
British Library blog entry.
Old Bailey trial proceedings (4 February 1856).
Ssee also the page for James Harding.
Garry Gillard | New: 6 October, 2020 | Now: 8 June, 2021