Thomas Allen (1850-1916)

Thomas Allen Graduation -Trinity College, Dublin

Thomas Allen, Schoolmaster, was born in County Tyrone on 28 Mar 1850. His father's name was also Thomas Allen and his mother was Mary (surname unknown). He became a school teacher and lived in Omagh, Co. Tyrone. One Irish teaching post was in Ashmore Street National School (1875).

The above photograph purports to show a graduation event at Trinity College Dublin in about 1870. However, no women graduated from TCD until 1905 and no record has been found of TA's attendance at TCD. One suggestion is that he may have done his teacher training at the Normal School for the Training of Teachers (later named Dundas Vale College) on New City Road in Cowcaddens, Glasgow. Built in 1837, this was the first institution in Britain specifically for the professional training of teachers. This could have been a photo of TA's graduating class there.

In Omagh on 23 October 1883, Thomas Allen married Catherine Mary McCorkell, Mantle Maker (born 11 Jan 1852 in Omagh, daughter of George McCorkell and Mary Torrance). See photo. At the time their eldest daughter was born, they were living in Market Street or Market Road, Omagh (54°35'58.24"N, 7°17'51.88"W).

Thomas and Catherine died within one day of each other, on 15 and 16 May 1916 respectively, in Brisbane, Qld.

The children (see photo) of Thomas and Catherine were as follows (the first two were born in the "old country", the others in Australia):

Born Married Died Notes
Mary Edith ("Edith")
24 Sep 1884 at home in Market St., Omagh, Co. Tyrone James Kerr Johnston on 22 Jan 1913 in Brisbane Qld
Four children.
18 Aug 1952 in Naremburn NSW (Sydney) The author's grandparents.
See link to JKJ.
13 Mar 1886 in Ireland Charles George Hawkins on 29 May 1912
Four children.
Sept 1952 Lived at Logan Village, Qld.
Barbara Jean
18 Mar 1888 in Watsonville, Qld James Pringle
Six children
1968 Brisbane Qld -
Lucy Alice 10 Apr 1890 - 19 Feb 1891 Died aged 10 months.
John Alfred
23 Feb 1892 Grace Helen Pringle (1891-1976) on 17 Dec 1917
Five children
Oct 1970 Brisbane Qld -

Thomas Allen migrated to Australia for health reasons and because, according to family tradition, he refused to teach the (Anglican) catechism in class in Ireland. It was rumoured he had TB but, although not strong, he lived to age 66 in spite of some very harsh environments - so there has to be some doubt about the "diagnosis".

Victorian shipping records indicate that Thomas, Catherine, and daughters Edith and Dora arrived in Melbourne aboard SS Liguria in Dec 1886. The Suez Canal had been opened in 1869, so a steamship could make the passage from England to the east coast of Australia in about two months instead of the five months or so of the old sailing ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope only a few decades earlier. The Liguria was the same ship which had brought Frank Kraushaar to Australia in November 1880 (see The Kraushaar Saga); it belonged to the Pacific Steam Navigation Co. and, along with another nine ships, offered a fortnightly service to Australia under the Orient Steam Navigation Co. banner.

Thomas Allen's first Australian teaching position was in Watsonville, on the Atherton Tableland south-west of Cairns in North Queensland (17°22'38.43"S, 145°18'45.33"E) from 7 Feb 1887 to Dec 1888. This was a new state school and he was the first Head Teacher.

The family made its way to Queensland in time for Thomas to start teaching at the beginning of the 1887 school year. (School years in Australia generally start in late January or early February.) The only reasonable route to Watsonville would have been by ship to Port Douglas and Cobb & Co. coach from the port to Watsonville.

Though reports of school inspectors are generally favourable as to Thomas Allen's honesty and industry, he seems to have had some difficulty, not being himself physically strong, in maintaining discipline amongst the rough miners' children. At times, the rough parents also gave him trouble, as is evidenced by the case of Annie Joy.

For a time, Thomas's wife Catherine was also a "Temporary Teacher" at the Watsonville school. Having been a mantle-maker, she taught needlework. She submitted her resignation (96 KB) on 3 March 1888. Her daughter Barbara was born two weeks later, on 18 March 1888. Her resignation was sent with a covering letter (134 KB) from husband Thomas. It is interesting that he takes the opportunity to complain to the Under-Secretary of the Department of Public Instruction about the high cost of living in the bush. He says it costs the family £60 p.a. more to live in Watsonville than it would in Brisbane; and even worse is the fact that some essential items are not available at any price. (From a note by some official on Catherine's letter, it looks as though she was being paid £40 p.a.)

And this was in spite of the fact that Watsonville was a kind of cultural centre of the Far Northern mining fields. "Situated in a valley that was almost devoid of grass and surrounded by rocky hills where only goats could thrive", the then prosperous mining township had good singers, splendid violinists, a brass band, and a School of Arts library stuffed with the best literature of the day. In 1885, Watsonville had seven pubs and five general stores; its population in 1893 was 200, but it attracted revellers from 30 miles around. The town was noted for its hospitality, but sport was its long suit. The tug-of-war team was invincible for a decade. Famous for athletics and rifle shooting, the town also had some champion tennis players. The last hotel in town, Hobson's Albion, burnt down in 1954.

In 2000, SJC visited Watsonville and Herberton, 11 km away, and reported as follows:
I went to Herberton, a sleepy town that has faded since its prime... There was no road sign to Watsonville, but enquiry soon revealed that the road to Irvinebank would get me to Watsonville on excellent bitumen.

Both Herberton and Watsonville were the sites of tin discoveries in 1880. On the road between them there were place names like Stannary Hills. Watsonville suffered because it had no reliable water supply. It turned out to be a cross-roads with a windmill in the middle of the intersection and about four habitable dwellings around it. It would be flattering the place to say "it had seen better days". I saw no human in Watsonville.

I then drove in 4WD on a gravel and mud road to Irvinebank, which is considerably larger and showed signs of life. It had many "preserved" buildings from 100+ years ago. They looked as if a good wind would destroy them. Irvinebank is also an ex-mining town. I could see a reasonable functioning State School in Irvinebank, but no evidence that a school ever existed in Watsonville.

So I went back to the Herberton public library which admitted that it had no information on Watsonville. It was all said to have been lost in bushfires, floods and cyclones. There was a mural outside which said that in the boom-time Watsonville had a dramatic society and orchestra.

The windmill in the centre of Watsonville carries this poem:
A Town That Used To Be

I have seen the sunlight waning, and the sun descend until
A township stood in shadow at the foot of Western Hill.
Soon the lights would start to glimmer with a warm and friendly glow,
From the hotels and the houses, in the town I used to know.
But now those lights have vanished, and forever passed away
With the passing of the era of the buggy and the dray.
When a breeze at nightfall started, you could hear the steady beat,
Of the windmill turning slowly, in the centre of the street.
Now, on moonlight nights the curlews come and scamper to and fro
Upon the street, as children did, in the nights of long ago.
And when the curlews whistle, the fancy comes to me
That I listen to the dirges for a town that used to be.
The hitching rails have disappeared as though they never were,
And seldom does the saddle-horse know the touch of rein or spur.
The hills and creeks have given up the wealth they held in store,
To eager hands, that mostly now, are stilled for ever more.
The tracks that pack-teams left behind grow fainter year by year,
And mining scars on Western Hill in time will disappear.
To fade like those that made them - soon forgotten, soon unknown,
Like the tracks they too created - washed away or overgrown.
And now I watch the sunset bid goodbye to Western Hill,
And in its growing shadow, everything is calm and still;
And in the coming darkness, in my fancy I can see
The friendly glow of lamplight - where a township used to be.

Claude Morris
Born Watsonville, 1908
Thomas Allen's dream of a posting to Brisbane came true when he was assigned to the suburb of Normanby for three years (Jan 1889-Dec 1892). From the beginning of 1893, he was transferred as Head Teacher to Tivoli, near Ipswich, just west of Brisbane. During this year, he became too ill to work and was on sick leave for five months from June through October (two months at full pay and three months without pay). From Nov 1893 till Jan 1894 he did not resume duty as there was no suitable opening.

From Jan 1894 he was Head Teacher at Aramac (22°58'17.77"S, 145°14'34.68"E) in the real outback of central Queensland, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn (100 km north of Barcaldine, where the Australian Labor Party is said to have been born under a tree, and north-east of Longreach where there is now a museum, the "Stockmen's Hall of Fame", that celebrates the early settlers of Thomas Allen's day).
Wikipedia says:
"Aramac is a small town in Western Queensland, Australia, lying 70 kilometres north of Barcaldine, and 1280 kilometres by road from the state capital, Brisbane. In the 1850's, pastoralist and future Premier of Queensland Robert Ramsey Mackenzie travelled through the area. He blazed a tree with the inscription 'R R Mac', which was later corrupted into the name of the town."
A comment by EMC: "My mother (Edith Allen) said that in some places where they lived in the outback it was so dry and barren that they didn't have any fresh fruit or vegetables, and she blamed poor diet then for her ill-health later in life. She said that when it did rain at Aramac, it flooded round the school, and they had to walk on the fence posts to get there. I couldn't imagine how they did this until we went there and saw the fence made of big sawn-off tree trunks."

In July 1896, Thomas Allen was transferred to Tingalpa (another Brisbane suburb) where in March 1899 he became Head Teacher. In August 1903 he was transferred as Head Teacher to Peak Mountain, again in the Ipswich area in SE Queensland.

Thomas Allen Family

EMC reports: "My Grandparents finally bought a house and settled in Power St., Norman Park, Brisbane. This house was inherited by my Uncle John Allen. It was a typical Qld house with a big area underneath enclosed with lattice. I often visited the John Allens there. My Grandfather died one day and Grandmother the next day. She died in agony with a tumour which burst."

The story continues with Thomas and Catherine Allen's eldest child, Edith, who married James Johnston. These were the author's grandparents.