Fremantle Stuff > people >

Captain John Thomas

John Thomas was a shipowner and a publican, owner of the Albert Hotel in High St, which stood where the Commercial Hotel is now. Elizabeth Terrace, half a dozen houses on the corner of Queen and Adelaide Streets, was built for him, and demolished 1976.

This excerpt from Hitchcock's history tells us something about him, and other ships and their owners.

In these days of big ships it is interesting to note that in 1839 Captain John Thomas had built a little cutter of 22 tons named the Emma. After being employed for a time on the coast, she was lengthened and her tonnage increased to 25 tons. In that diminutive craft Captain Thomas traded to Adelaide, Hobart, Mauritius, Singapore, Algoa Bay and the Cape. In 1846 he built the Empress, of 125 tons, and he employed her in the same trade until 1858, when he bought the Rory O’More (296 tons), which he commanded for some years. After his retirement from the sea he engaged in farming at Ravenswood and later built and managed the Albert Hotel. He came to the colony in the Gilmore in 1829 and died in 1907 at the patriarchal age of 92. He it was who, after leaving the sea, taught most of our old-time coasting skippers all they knew of navigation, and that was very little, as most of them used to find their way about by instinct or rule of thumb. In those go-as-you-please days certificates of competency were not required, and anyone could be a shipmaster or practise as a doctor or dentist without his qualifications being put to the test. There was consternation among ancient mariners when certificates were first brought into vogue. Many of them, though they were splendid seamen and had sailed vessels for years, could pass only after several attempts the most rudimentary examinations they required, and some never passed at all. Unkind people said that the gift of a bottle of whisky to the examiner greatly facilitated the acquisition of a ticket in those days.

Half a century ago shipbuilding was a thriving industry at the port, and although no very large vessels were launched, those that were built suited the requirements of the time. Probably the largest vessel ever built in the State was one of about 300 tons built near the mouth of the Murray at Mandurah in the middle forties. She was named the Ocean Queen. About the same time a brigantine of about 125 tons named the Empress was built at Fremantle for Captain John Thomas. Other vessels built in Fremantle between the sixties and eighties and considered to be fairly large in those days, were the Janet (226 tons) built by James Storey; the Iris (206 tons), built by Robert Howson; the Laughing Wave (161 tons), built by W. Jackson; the Rose (100 tons) built by Robert Wrightson, and the New Perseverance (127 tons), built at Preston Point by Jones and Owston. Other locally-built vessels of about 100 tons were the Mary Herbert, the Azelia, and the Pet. Quite a number of smaller vessels for the coasting trade and luggers for pearling were built by TW Mews, WA Chamberlain and AE Brown.
Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: 98.

thomas monument

Impressive memorial to John Thomas in Fremantle Cemetery Anglican A. It seems that the guy who did the lettering got his Cs and Rs mixed up.

References and Links

Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council, source of the second image.

Kimberly, Warren Bert, 'John Thomas', History of West Australia, Wikisource, from which the first image comes.

Garry Gillard | New: 17 January, 2015 | Now: 25 February, 2021