Thomas Dowse

Thomas Dowse, merchant and diarist, SLQ 88532 Dowse.

One time Brisbane town clerk Thomas Dowse had strong links with the Queen’s Wharf area. They commenced on 20 July 1842 when, with his family, Dowse stepped on to Queen’s wharf, a former convict newly arrived from Sydney in pursuit of his fortune.

Born in Hackney, London, in 1809, Thomas Dowse was sentenced to life imprisonment for stealing from a family member. The sentence was commuted and he was transported to New South Wales when in his teens.

Dowse arrived in Sydney in 1828 and, fortunately for him, was assigned work as a clerk in the Harbour Master’s office. Married to Ann Kelly in 1832 and with a ticket-of-leave in 1836, Dowse moved to Moreton Bay as the convict settlement was closing.

His first enterprise was a ferry service across the river near Queen’s Wharf. He then became an auctioneer with premises in Queen Street and in 1849, with the assistance of the mother of Ann Dowse, purchased allotment 6 at Queen’s Wharf, having already purchased the adjacent allotment no. 5 at auction. On no. 6, the allotment closer to Queen’s Wharf, he built a three-room brick cottage, two store buildings and a wharf he named Victoria Wharf. In 1853 the house was converted into the Queen’s Head Hotel. This particular venture lasted just two years.

Throughout the years of financial boom and bust Thomas Dowse was a promoter of Queen’s Wharf as the suffrage or customs wharf for Brisbane. Unfortunately, another location at the northern end of Queen Street was chosen instead, leaving Queen’s Wharf and its surrounding businesses to suffer loss of trade. The difficulties of long distance dealing with government officials in New South Wales during this period strengthened Dowse’s support for separation, which occurred in 1859.

Following the death of his wife Ann in October 1853, Dowse had married Sarah Ann Fairfax and moved to a house named ‘Hillside’ at Milton. His seemingly perpetual financial difficulties eased when in 1862 he became the town clerk for Brisbane, a position he held until 1869. Thomas Dowse continued with his business interests until his death on 9 November 1885.

Thomas Dowse is remembered today for the humanity present in the diary he kept, for being the Moreton Bay correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and for travelogues and articles of reminiscences for the Brisbane Courier and the Queenslander written under the name of ‘Old Tom’. His two unpublished works of fiction, Tom Chaseland, or, The adventures of a colonial halfcast: A tale of old times and The adventures of an exile, or, Liberty regained: A tale founded on fact are mostly forgotten.

Additional Reading

  • Read more about Thomas Dowse at The Australia Dictionary of Biography.
  • ‘Old Times by Old Tom’, Queenslander, 3 July 1869, p. 3.
  • ‘Old Tom on the Past and Present’, Queenslander, 3 September 1870, p. 6.