The following article by Grahame Thom about a Kilmore schoolteacher and his family was originally published in the June 2006 edition of our Newsletter, Kilmore Connections
James Thom was born on 26 April 1840 and christened on 7 May 1840 at Forgue, Aberdeenshire, the third child of seven and second son of William Thom and Mary Bodie (1). William, christened on 13 September 1812 at Marnoch, Banffshire, was the son of Alexander Thom and Isabel Ritchie (2), and married Mary Bodie at Auchterless, Aberdeenshire on 9 December 1834 (3). William died on 8 December 1890 and Mary on 5 September 1893; both are buried at Inverurie, Aberdeenshire (4).
Jamesʼ future wife, Isabella Clark Gordon was born on 6 September 1842 and christened on 8 October 1842 at Clatt, Aberdeenshire, the daughter of James Gordon and Elspet Clark (5). James and Elspet were married on 1 July 1827 at Keig, Aberdenshire (6). It is likely that James was the son of Sir James Gordon the 7th Bart of Gordonstoun and the 8th Bart of Letterfourie, and Mary Glendonwyn (7).
Forgue is about 13 km north of the nearest large town of Huntly, and Clatt is about 20 km south of Huntly. A well known institution, the Gordon Schools, was established in Huntly in 1839 and it is possible that both James and Isabella were educated at this School. Especially as it is reasonable to conclude they knew each other well before coming to Victoria. James received his training as a teacher before emigrating (8).
James arrived in Victoria prior to 9 July 1866 for on that day he was appointed as the master (teacher) at public school 525 at Reids Creek, a little village west of Beechworth (9). While at Reids Creek he sat for a teaching exam (10) and was appointed to the 2nd Division on 10 January 1868 (9). In writing home to his parents James probably wrote to Isabella as well and it is likely he asked her to come to Victoria to be his bride. Isabella arrived in Melbourne in July 1869 on the ship Kosciusko (11) and on 6 August 1869 James and Isabella were married in Beechworth (12).
Just prior to his wedding, James was transferred on 26 July 1869 to public school 305 at Hurdle Flat, 7 km south east of Beechworth (9). This was only a short appointment for on 1 January 1870 he was appointed head teacher at Kilmore public school 353 known as the Kilmore Free Church of Scotland School at the rear of St Andrews Church (9). The Thoms remained in Kilmore for many years and the following children were born there.
- James Lawson Thom born 1870, died 1872, buried in Kilmore General Cemetery
- Gordon William Thom born 20 August 1871, engineer, married Hester Charlotte von Stieglitz in 1906, one child, died 6 May 1956.
- Francis (Frank) Edward Thom born 25 October 1872, public servant, married
- Agnes Deborah Thomson, 4 children, died December 1948
- Lewis Stanley Thom, born 1874, died 3 April 1875, buried in Kilmore General Cemetery
- Mary Grace Eliza Thom born 17 January 1876, died Ararat 17 April 1894
- Isabella (Ella) Melville Thom born 10 January 1878, married
- Edgar Charles Brewster in 1910, two children, died 4 November 1925
- Leslie Niven Thom born 22 November 1879, teacher and patent attorney, married Sarah Jane Anderson, three children, died 6 May 1962
- Elsie Lillian (Dollie) Thom born 7 November 1881, married Douglas Potter, auctioneer, two children, died 5 August 1965
- Winifred (Winnie) May Thom born 1 March 1885, secretary, War Office, Southern Command, Melbourne, died 30 November 1943
- Agnes Thom born 7 December 1886, died 18 November 1979 (13)
In the early years of Kilmore there were three public schools connected to three different churches. In 1872 the new Education Act provided for free, secular and compulsory education. Therefore it was not surprising that the Education Department quickly decided to build a larger public school at Kilmore with the intention of closing the three existing schools. This caused a lot of discussion by the residents of Kilmore and petitions on behalf of the teachers seeking appointments to the new school were lodged with the Minister of Education (14). Appointments were made and Public School 1568 opened in May 1875 with James being appointed as special assistant teacher from 1 May 1875 at £4 a week. He was promoted to 1st Assistant teacher on 22 January 1880, temporary head teacher from 11 October 1880 and permanent head teacher on 21 January 1882 (9).
James was a well respected headmaster and teacher and received good reports from the school inspectors during his career. The following are noted on his official record about his teaching while at Kilmore (9):-
27 March 1874 Mr Geary reported “manages the school very creditably – is careful and zealous in his teaching – preserves a quiet attractive manner”
19 May 1874 Mr Main reported “a very good assistant – I prefer his work as an assistant to his management as a H. T.”
17 September 1882 Mr Rice reported “An intelligent capable teacher; seems interested in his work.”
8 October 1884 Mr Tynan reported “Industrious; earnest & desirous of giving satisfaction to the Dept: He is perhaps to better scholar than a teacher.”
15 October 1885 Mr Tynan reported “An earnest conscientious man & an intelligent and capable teacher; not brilliant or showy, but sound.”
22 October 1886 Mr Tynan reported “A careful, industrious and conscientious teacher who has the school in a satisfactory state as regards instruction. He is not a disciplinarian of the highest order.”
18 August 1888 Mr Tynan reported “Conscientious and competent in all respects save as a disciplinarian.”
It is interesting to compare the final two above with the first report at Ararat school.
8 July 1890 Mr Roche reported “An efficient teacher, very zealous, and interested in the progress of his pupils. Discipline very good. The children seem orderly and industrious.”
On 16 December 1880 the following appeared in the Kilmore Free Press (page 2 col c),
Mr P F Flynn son of our respected townsman Mr John Flynn, has successfully passed the entrance examination of the University of Dublin, attaining a place in the honours list. Speaks well for the teaching he received here whilst under the charge of Mr Thom.
From the above it is reasonable to conclude that teaching the youth of Kilmore in those days was in good hands. But what of the Thom family life outside of the school?
On 4 August 1871, James, along with many other Kilmore men from Scotland, joined the Kilmore Lodge of the Order of St Andrew (15). By paying a regular subscription James and his family were covered financially for any costs related to illness; it was a form of health insurance. On joining James certified that he and Isabella were of good health.
Sadly their first born child, James died in 1872 aged 2 years, and then in April 1875 Lewis died aged 7 months, it is said, of diphtheria (13). In August 1877 the Kilmore Free Press reported an outbreak of diphtheria, with two children of James and Isabella being ill but “progressing favourably” (16).
In 1871 the Kilmore rate books list James as having a house on the corner of Union and Fitzroy Streets; then 1872 and 1873, house and land in Fitzroy Street, and in 1874 house and land on the corner of Albert and Fitzroy Streets (17). In early 1876 James appealed against a rate valuation by the Kilmore Shire Council, but failed on a technicality as he had not stated in his appeal that he was “aggrieved” as required under the Local Government Act. He was not alone in having an appeal dismissed for this reason (18).
At a meeting on 3 June 1876, the Kilmore Shire Council considered an objection lodged by the Colonial Bank against an application to enclose the Market Reserve as it would close an access route to a house owned by the Bank and occupied by the Thom family; no action was taken by Council (19). The Market Reserve was on the western side of Albert Street, between Union and Gipps Streets.
A contributor to the Kilmore Free Press, under the name Athmos, recalled in 1931 that James lived in a house in Victoria Parade, between Gipps and Union Streets (20). This is confirmed by an advertisement in the Free Press on 5 December 1878, (page 3, col d), which reads “To let or sell. Cottage in Victoria street, lately occupied by Mr James Thom. Apply Colonial Bank.” Where did the Thom family live next?
A clue comes from an advertisement in the Kilmore Free Press on 9 August 1883 (page 3, col b) – Wanted a General Servant, Apply Mrs. Thom, State School; Kilmore. Not long after the opening of the new school, tenders were called for the erection of a residence for the headmaster on the north-west corner of the school grounds. A wooden house of four rooms was built and occupied on 29 April 1878 with the rental being £20 a year. Another room was added in 1884 (21). So it would appear James and his family moved from Victoria Street in April 1878 and lived in the headmasterʼs house until they left Kilmore.
In June 1882 the Kilmore Council considered as request from J. H. Rose and others, asking to have the name of Jas Thom placed on the roll as a trustee for Oddfellows’ Hall. However the Council decided to let the matter be dealt with by the Revision Court. I wonder what was the outcome. One gets the felling that religion played a part in this decision (22).
History repeats itself for on 8 June 1882 James complained of the filthy condition of the channels in front of the School. And just three months later the School was closed as a result of his family coming down with diphtheria (23).
It’s interesting to learn in the Free Press on 29 March 1883, (page 3, cold), that James advertised that evening classes will commence on
Monday, 1 April at the State School.
In 1885-86 James was President of the Kilmore Mechanicsʼ Institute and in 1887-88 Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages (24).
In 1887 the colonies celebrated the Queenʼs Jubilee. But in Kilmore, the Council, dominated by Irish Catholic men, decided not to participate in the celebrations. It was reported in the press that Kilmore was the only town in the colony not to support the Jubilee celebrations. So the loyal citizens of Kilmore called a meeting and decided to form a committee to give every child in Kilmore a treat, hold a procession and have a bonfire on 22 June. James Thom was a member of the committee (25).
James ceased being a teacher at Kilmore on 30 November 1888 (9). Friends and fellow teachers were invited to a farewell dinner that night at the Royal Oak Hotel. The Kilmore Advertiser reported “Last Friday evening Mr. James Thom, lately head teacher of the local State School, was entertained at the Royal Oak Hotel on the occasion of his departure from Kilmore, and presented with a purse of sovereigns by the public, and a valuable writing desk by the teachers and scholars, and Mrs. Thom with a hansome biscuit barrel. About 40 gentlemen were present and a very enjoyable evening was spent.” The Kilmore Free Press also reported that “We need only say that we consider Mr. Thom was well worthy of all the respect shown him, and we wish him every success in his new sphere.” (26)
His next appointment was head teacher of public school 1719 at Broomfield, north of Ballarat. (9). It is possible he did not take up this position for shortly afterwards on 13 February 1889 James was appointed as head teacher at Ararat Public School number 800. He retired from teaching at Ararat on 2 November 1894 on a pension of £141.2.2 based on his average salary over the past three years of £302.7.6 (9).
In retirement James, Isabella and their family first lived at Parkville, Melbourne, where some of their children attended the Melbourne University Special School. In about 1905 they moved to live at Brighton, probably with several of their children including daughters Winifred and Agnes who probably looked after their parents (24). It is likely that James did some work as a representative of the AMP Society (27).
Jamesʼ death was reported in the Argus on 3 September 1920 (page 1) “On the 1st September at his residence “Ythan” (28), Windermere
Crescent, Middle Brighton, James, the dearly loved husband of Isabella Thom. Isabellaʼs death was reported in the Argus on 2 December 1927 (page 1) “On 30 November, at her residence “Ythan”, Windermere Crescent, Brighton Beach, Isabella Clarke, relict of the late James Thom; sister of Rev Samuel Gordon MA, BD (London, England) and the dearly loved mother of Winifred M and Agnes Thom. They were both buried in Brighton Cemetery.
The following obituary appeared in the Kilmore Free Press on 9 September 1920 (page 4 col b) :-
“Mr Jas Thom, who died at Melbourne on 1st Instant, was for many years a highly respected resident of Kilmore, and for a period prior to retirement from the service was head teacher of Kilmore State School. He had attained the age of 80 years, and was a quiet unassuming gentleman of high attainments and a most estimable character.”
- Web site <www.familysearch.org> Batch C111944 and Thom family notes held by the Kilmore Historical Society, February 2006
- Ibid Batch C111612
- Ibid Batch M111734
- Web site <worldconnect.rootsweb.com> – Bodie-Antle Family Tree, February 2006
- Web site <www.familysearch.org> Batch C111804, February 2006
- Ibid Batch M112052
- Web site <www.stirnet.com> – Gordon11, February 2006
- Web site <www.scotshistoryonline.co.uk> – Gordon Schools, February 2006
- Public Record Office Victoria, mfm VPRS 13718 – Teacher Record Books Number 2065, Blake, L. J., general editor, Vision and realisation: a centenary history of state education in Victoria, and Bailliere, The Victorian Official Post Office Directory
- Web site <www.prov.vic.gov.au> Index to VPRS 907 Examination Papers, Boards of Teachers, February 2006
- Ibid – Index to Unassisted Immigration to Victoria 1852-1923, February 2006
- Winifredʼs birth certificate No 4589/1885 held by the Kilmore Historical Society, and the Victorian Digger Index
- Thom family notes held by the Kilmore Historical Society, and the Victorian Digger Index
- Tucker, Maya V, Kilmore on the Sydney Road, pages 136-137
- Copies of the Order of St Andrew Kilmore Lodge held by the Kilmore Historical Society
- Kilmore Free Press, 9 August 1877, page 2, col c
- Kilmore Shire Council Rate Books held by the Kilmore Historical Society
- Kilmore Advertiser, 13 April 1876, page 2, col b
- Ibid, 6 July 1876
- Kilmore Free Press, 8 October 1931, Victoria Parade by Athmos
- Ibid, 8 July 1975, Early School History
- Ibid, 8 June 1882, page 2, col 5
- Ibid, page 2, col e, and 7 September 1882, page 2, col b
- Thom family notes held by the Kilmore Historical Society
- Tucker, Maya V, Kilmore on the Sydney Road, pages 150-151
- Kilmore Free Press, 29 November 1888, page 5, col d, Kilmore Advertiser, 8 December 1888, page 2, col c, Kilmore Free Press, 6 December 1888, page 2, col 5
- Kilmore Advertiser, 11 September 1920
- The river Ythan in Aberdeenshire originates from a convergence of small burns in the vicinity of Ythan Wells near Auchterless not far from where both James and Isabella were born. The river is approximately 63 kilometres long running through the villages of Fyvie and Methlick and the town of Ellon to reach the sea at Newburgh some 12 miles north of Aberdeen.