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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Thomas Southwell

Born: 1813; Died: 1881; Married: 1. Eliza Cooke; 2. Mary Croxton (nee Roffe)

Thomas (1813-1881) was one of eleven children born to Samuel and Sarah Southwell from Robertsbridge, Sussex. Four of their seven sons emigrated to Australia – Thomas, William, John and Mark – the last two joining Thomas and Mary at Parkwood. In the emigration records Thomas is described as a labourer who could read but not write – 'hale, strong, useful' – perhaps an under-statement?!

Sixteen years after arriving in Australia he had saved sufficient from his carrying business to buy land (1854). A decade later he was able to replace the first slab cottage with a fine house (1863). By this time he had the help of five grown sons and two brothers. His daughters helped with minding and milking the cows and harvesting, making clothes, preparing meals. A large family was a great blessing.

Thomas Southwell's land

Thomas was not a selector. He purchased the somewhat remote Parkwood land from Alick Osborne in 1854 after working a while for Henry Parkinson 'on the very estate which he now owns'. Parkinson, 'who was once well off, died in poverty in a gunyah adjoining Mr Southwell's estate, and depended on his neighbours for the last offices of charity to the dying and the dead'.

Osborne, a ship's surgeon, bought Portion 35 of 987 acres, Parish of Wallaroo in 1831, for 5/- an acre. In 1854 it cost Thomas ₤1,500 (or 30/- an acre). Upon his death in 1881, he passed it to the four sons of his first marriage who had helped him build a thriving farm, home, and carrying business - Thomas, Samson, Samuel and John. Subsequently it became a Kilby family home.

With good frontage on Ginninderra Creek, just above the Ginninderra Falls, Parkwood fell outside the Federal Capital Territory when it was proclaimed in 1909.

In 1863, when he was 50, with fifteen children to accommodate, Thomas and Mary built a new home. Bricks were made and burnt on the property, the sawn timber brought across the Murrumbidgee at Cusacks Crossing from Sherwood. The rooms consisted of a parlor, dining room, the parson's room, and their own bedroom; upstairs was the school room and the girls' bedroom.

The roof was shingles, the walls were a fine plaster, and ceilings were lathe and
plaster. The doors, window frames, skirting boards and architraves were red cedar, the floor boards were well-sawn stringy bark.....The floor was nailed with nails made by the resident blacksmith, sharp pointed with square heads. The house had a high-pitched roof and attic rooms in the English style common in Sussex where Thomas and Eliza had come from. It soon sat amongst stables, barns, a smithy, chicken yard, an orchard and vegetable plots, enabling this remote family community to become highly self-sufficient.

Thomas the teamster

In addition to their farming activities, Thomas and his young sons were general carriers in the district, undertaking regular trips to Sydney with a bullock team and wagon, round trips taking anything up to two months. Two Parkwood hills are named after faithful bullocks 'White Eye' and 'Boxer'. Bullocks were later replaced by horse teams, cutting the round trip to around three weeks.

By the 1860s Thomas was one of the most efficient and reliable carriers in the district, with a profitable business. As strict Methodists, the Southwells could be trusted to carry alcohol, as well as wheat, wool and other produce, returning from Sydney with household supplies.

The southern railway reached Goulburn in 1869, greatly cutting travel time to Sydney. In the 1870's the carrying business was increasingly left to his sons, who had been amongst the first to haul supplies to the Kiandra diggings.

Parkwood chapels

Thomas Southwell was the founder of Methodism in the district. The home he built at Parkwood attracted a growing congregation to bible readings, prayer meetings and services. In 1863 he gave a half acre 99-year lease to the Wesleyan Methodist Church as a site for a chapel – a lined wooden slab building with boarded floor and bark roof. By 1880 this building was in bad repair and Thomas decided on a substantial new stone structure, built entirely at his expense, which still stands today, and is a shrine for the extended Southwell clan. The foundation stone was laid to great ceremony on 9th December 1880. Following a stroke, Thomas was in a wheelchair for the opening ceremony, which he nevertheless conducted. He died after a long and painful illness on 31 May 1881 and was buried at the Weetangera Methodist Cemetery.

Spiritual home for large clan

As it grew, the Southwell family kept alive and honoured its roots in Parkwood, the Methodist church and its core values. The first major family reunion was in 1873 when all 69 surviving members of his family gathered for dinner at the paternal homestead for Thomas' 60th birthday. His family gave him a Bible as a token of their love and esteem; he gave each of the grandchildren a shilling as a memento.

In 1938 around 600 relatives and friends gathered at the Parkwood homestead for the centenary celebrations. There were almost 1300 descendants at that time, the progeny of Thomas' 19 children. The sesquicentenary in 1988 drew around 1200 to a reunion at the ANU, when Lyall Gillespie's history 'The Southwell family. Pioneers of the Canberra District' was launched. The Southwell Family Society of Australia was established to record the family genealogy which it does to the present day. The latest Southwell family register has some 14,500 names.

[text from the Exhibition 'Selected Spaces, Hall School Museum and Heritage Centre, 2019]

[The following entry for Thomas Southwell was submitted by the Southwell Family Society to the Immigration Place Australia website]

In Nov 1838 Thomas was the first of his family to immigrate from England to Australia. He was followed by his three brothers, William in 1842, John and Mark in 1858 and his nephew Thomas 'Chummy Tom' in 1874.

Thomas Southwell (the son of Samuel and Sarah Ann Ð nee Jackson) was born on 6 Feb 1813 at Salehurst, Robertsbridge, Sussex. Thomas married Eliza Cooke on 1 May 1833 at St James Church, Ewhurst Green, Sussex.

Thomas and Eliza left England seeking a better life due to hard times and over-crowding at Salehurst. They came to New South Wales as assisted immigrants with their children Thomas and Mary Ann. They left London on 23 July 1838 on the 'Lady Nugent' and arrived in Port Jackson on 27 Nov 1838. Shipping records list Thomas as labourer and Eliza as farm servant. Thomas could read, but not write. Both were shown as 'Wesleyan'.

Thomas was employed in Sydney by a Mr Tooth before he and Eliza moved to Cobbity (near Camden). They finally settled at Ginninderra, near Hall. Here, Thomas worked as a farm labourer and operated as a teamster, carrying produce and wool to Sydney and returning with supplies for himself and others. Thomas worked hard and in 1854 purchased land on Ginninderra Creek, which he named 'Parkwood' after a wood near his Sussex home.

Thomas and Eliza raised 8 children at 'Parkwood': Thomas, Mary Ann, William, Samson, Samuel, John, Eliza and Lydia. Alfred and Harriet Bembrick who were orphans were also raised by Thomas and Eliza. In 1852 Eliza died from birth complications and her baby Jabez died 4 months later. They are buried at St John's Cemetery, Reid. In 1853 Thomas married a widow, Mary Croxton (nee Roffe) at Gunning, and had 9 more children: James, Richard, Sarah, Jane, Elizabeth, Mark, Hannah, Beatrice and Benjamin. Mary's daughters Anne and Harriet were also raised in this large family.

His Wesleyan faith was very important and Thomas held Bible readings and family prayers in his home and began to read sermons. By 1848 Thomas held regular church services at home for family and neighbours. In 1863 a slab chapel for Wesleyan services was completed on his property and Thomas later replaced this building with a stone chapel in 1881. Local preachers held services at 'Parkwood'. Thomas was known as the 'father of Methodism' in the district.

In Oct 1879 Thomas was appointed a magistrate. He continued to farm at 'Parkwood' until his death on 31 May 1881. Thomas grew wheat, oats, rye, corn, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, hops and tobacco. His second wife, Mary died on 29 April 1885 and she and Thomas are buried at the Old Weetangera Cemetery (William Hovel Drive, opposite Hawker).

Thomas' brother William and his wife Emma (nee Nicholls – m. Potter) embarked on the "Bolivar" in London on 28 May 1842 and arrived in Launceston in October 1842. They settled in Tasmania for 3 years before moving to Ballan, in Victoria where William farmed. William and Emma had a daughter Sarah Anne who died in infancy and two step daughters Elizabeth and Lydia Potter. William died at Ballan on 6 Sept 1862. Emma and her daughters moved to Queensland where Emma died at Barcaldine in 1891.

Another brother, John and his wife Lucy (nee Gasson) sailed from Southampton on 12 Apr 1858 on the "Grand Trianon" as assisted immigrants and arrived in Port Jackson on 20 Aug 1858. They settled at 'Parkwood' where he helped Thomas run the property. In 1873 John selected 80 acres near Sutton where he built his home 'Rosevale'. In 1875 and 1885 John added to his holding. John and Lucy had 8 children: Harriet, Samuel (Captain Sam), Jane, Thomas, Mary A, George, Lydia and Ellen. John died in 1889 and Lucy in 1900. They are buried at the Old Weetangera Cemetery.

Thomas' third brother, Mark and his wife Ellen (nee Smithson) left Liverpool on the "David McIver" on 4 Jun 1858 as assisted immigrants and arrived in Port Jackson on 24 Sept 1858. They had 4 children: Joshua, Gertrude, Minnie and Rose. Mark initially worked for Thomas before selecting his own land "Rosebud Apiary" (now in the suburb of Cook).

On 16 Dec 1874 Thomas' nephew, Thomas 'Chummy Tom' and his wife Annie (nee Goldsmith) Southwell, arrived in Sydney. Because they did not like country life they left 'Parkwood' and returned to Sydney where Thomas was a cabman and shoemaker. Thomas and Annie had 14 children, however 5 died in infancy.

The Southwells and their large families embraced life in their adopted country and become prominent and valued citizens who left a legacy for us all.

There is short biography of Thomas at Immigration Place Australia

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