tlm-p_s_childhood

TLM-P's childhood

TLM-P, Thomas and Eliza Prior's elder son, is the focus of this history & was the 3rd Thomas M-P in an unbroken line. In 1834 he left his home and family to emigrate to Australia. What was he like, and what drove him to leave his family for a penal colony some five months away by sailing ship? We have a huge amount of evidence, but that requires sifting and appreciating the different perspectives of the writers. He appears to be an energetic man with a driving need to restore his family fortunes. In this he was a typical man of his time: 'There was a general anxiety about status in New South Wales, and most inhabitants were attempting to assert their social respectability.'1) That social respectability was crucial because it opened up opportunities and networks which enabled fortunes to be made. In TLM-P's case, in later life there was another consideration: of his father's 5 children, he was the only male to survive until middle age, and the only one to have children to carry on his surname. If he failed, his family line failed.

In the following, we hope to give you enough evidence to make up your own mind about him, his family and their contribution to Australian life. Their varied lives are also a window into colonial life, including the tragic story of white settlement and black dispossession, and the fate of women faced with constant pregnancies.

TLM-P was born on 13 November 1819 at Wells, Somerset and died of stomach cancer at his Brisbane home 'Whytecliffe' on 31 December 1892, aged 73.2) According to his entry in Australia's Representative Men, he spent 'his early youth mostly in Belgium'.3) TLM-P's step-sister Louisa had been born at Boulogne, France in 1816. For TLM-P's birth three years later, his mother Eliza returned to her home town of Wells in England. The pious Eliza ensured that he and his two older step-sisters were all christened at the beautiful Wells Cathedral on 20 December 1819.4) Perhaps it was to commemorate that occasion that Thomas and Eliza bought a 17th century bible, with Eliza writing in it, ‘Thomas & Eliza Prior, Wells, 1819’.5)

The family later returned to the continent, as TLM-P's entry in Australia's Representative Men states that he 'was educated at Brussels, by the Rev. Wm. Drury and Monsieur Giron'. The school these men ran was an elite one, located at 1 Rue du Commerce, near the royal palace.6) When TLM-P later met someone he had not seen since about 1827, they talked of Bruges days, so it appears the family lived there for a time.7)


TLM-P's wife Nora had the above photo in her album,8) with a note on the back that it was the (rather alarming looking) Rev. W. Drury and that he died 7 February 1878, aged 86. The connection with the Rev. Drury was easily maintained from the 1850s and 1860s when two of the Rev. Drury's sons migrated to Australia. Both ended up in prominent positions in Queensland. Edward Drury dominated Queensland banking from 1872 9) while his brother Albert became a long-term clerk of the Executive Council of Queensland.10) Both men moved in the same political circles as TLM-P.

A two-volume book, Jérusalem Délivrée, Poëme Traduit de L’Italien - Jerusalem delivered, poem translated from Italian confirms TLM-P's schooling in Brussels. The long poem is by the Italian Torquato Tasso, first published in 1581; TLM-P’s edition was published in 1825. The poem was ‘hugely successful’ with its depiction of Crusaders, ‘love, violence, and an exotic setting’. TLM-P probably was not a fan as the volumes do not give the impression of having being read. However, they do provide evidence about his schooling as, on both volumes, an inscription reads (in faded ink in French)11) that it was awarded to Th[omas] Prior as second prize when at a boarding school run by A. Giron during the academic year 1830-1831 when Thomas was 11 years old. The dedication was signed by Monsieur Giron, “Ixelles, 18 August [1831]”.Ixelles is now a suburb of Brussels, Belgium. 12)

TLM-P's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry states that he was also educated 'in England by private tutors', though provides no evidence for this. In 1837, TLM-P attended Dr Burney’s Academy at Gosport (England), a school to prepare young men to enter the Royal Navy.13) When he returned to England in 1882, one of his visits was to Gosport, though he found 'Everything altered'. Except for part of the church, he wrote, 'I could recognise nothing.' Later he walked around to see the Burney's old place and found only a few similarities. The Burney he knew was still alive and the school still in Burney family hands.14)

After TLM-P passed the navy exams, he served on HMS Donegal until September 1838.15) In his memoir about migrating to Australia, and in his 1882 diary, he refers to his last trip, aboard the small navy sailing ship, the Magicienne.16)

'Duckworth's Action off San Domingo, 6 February 1806' painted by Nicholas Pocock. HMS Donegal is on the left, engaging the Jupiter. Courtesy Wikicommons.

We don't know why he left the navy, but one likely factor is that the long peace after the Napoleonic Wars meant that a naval career no longer provided opportunities for ambitious middle-class young men. That he joined the navy rather than followed his father in the army was likely to be due to economic reasons: promotion was not by purchase in the navy. However, it helped to have a patron who could recommend you for an improved position or better ship.17) TLM-P’s patron was Admiral Sir Edward Brace, who was unable to take up his command, so TLM-P served instead under Admiral Sir John Ommaney.18) Service without a patron was another bar to ambition, so it is understandable that TLM-P soon resigned.

Traditionally, as seen, the men of the family had three career options: the military; as a member of the landed gentry; and (in the sole case of John Murray) the clergy. Despite his mother, TLM-P showed no sign of wanting to be a minister of the church; the military was no longer offering opportunities for impoverished men; and the family no longer had the land to support them as members of the gentry - at least in the United Kingdom. Like so many others at this time, TLM-P decided he had a better chance in one of the many British colonies. If his family's downward social mobility and lack of opportunity in Britain were the major 'push' factors, glowing descriptions of opportunities in the colonies from the time of his birth was likely the key 'pull' factor.
pictures.abebooks.com_thoth_md_md14182898044.jpg W.C. Wentworth's 1819 book extolling the virtues of migrating to Australia


1)
Christine Wright, Wellington's Men in Australia: Peninsula war and the making of empire c.1820-40, Houndsmills, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p.31.
2)
Qld death registration C3511; Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, Melbourne: E.A. Petherick, 1891-95, p.49; murray-prior-thomas-lodge-4282; Robert M-P, The Blood Royal of the Murray-Priors, ms written 1901-05 NLA Nq929.2M984, p.13; Thomas Bertram M-P, Some Australasian Families Descended from Royalty, ms, n.d., p.7.
3) , 18)
Australia's Representative Men, ed. T.W.H. Leavitt, Improved Edition, Melbourne: Wells and Leavitt, c.1889, entry for T.L. Murray-Prior. The book used is the one TLM-P owned, signed by him and dated 14th June 1889.It is likely that TLM-P provided the information. Provenance: J. Godden.
4)
hand-written notes in Thomas Prior’s prayer book; ‘Questions to be answered by T.L.M-P’, 6pp Memoranda by the Herald Office, Somerset House, London re Burke’s Colonial Gentry.
5)
Provenance: J. Godden.
6)
murray-prior-thomas-lodge-4282; Richard Clarke, email to J. Godden, 13-14 February 2018.
7)
TLM-P, Diary, 22 August 1882, ML.
8)
Provenance: J. Godden
11)
Deciphered and translated by Dr Hamish Graham, with thanks, 28 July 2017.
12)
this suggests that Isobel Hannah's claim that TLM-P 'studied with the celebrated French scholar, M. Giron, at Reading' in England, is incorrect. Isobel Hannah, 'The Royal Descent of the First Postmaster-General of Queensland', Queensland Geographical Journal, vol. LV, 1953-54, p.11.
13) , 15)
Australia's Representative Men, ed. T.W.H. Leavitt, Improved Edition, Melbourne: Wells and Leavitt, c.1889, entry for T.L. Murray-Prior. The book used is the one TLM-P owned, signed by him and dated 14th June 1889. It is likely that TLM-P provided the information. Provenance: J. Godden.
14)
TLM-P, Diary, 4 June, 6 August 1882
  • tlm-p_s_childhood.txt
  • Last modified: 2020/03/22 22:06
  • by judith