Wealth for Toil – Thomas Price

January 25th, 2012

It’s Australia Day 2012 tomorrow and I am participating in Twigs of Yore‘s annual blog challenge with this year’s theme Wealth for Toil. It took me a while to decide on who to write about because although all my ancestor’s worked hard, none of them were wealthy and most of them died early, through illness or accidents.

In the end I chose my mother’s grandfather Thomas Price as he led an interesting and varied life as he tried to provide for his family. Certificates give him a variety of occupations including labourer, coach axle turner, contractor, life insurance agent and at the time of his death he was a miner working in a remote area near Cloncurry having left Charters Towers where he had been a Baptist minister.

Thomas and his wife Elizabeth arrived in Sydney in 1878 and over the next ten years they had six children in six different places in NSW – Caleula, Orange, Parramatta, Kiama, Broughton Creek and Nattai. They then made the move to Queensland and four more children were born in Bundanba (now Bundamba), Bundaberg and Charters Towers.

The family then settled in Charters Towers for a while and it is here that Thomas and Elizabeth Price became involved with the Baptist Church. In an article Find Your Ancestors in Church Publications Part 1 for Australian Family Tree Connections, I briefly told of their involvement with the Ryan Street Baptist Church in Charters Towers.

Oddly enough I know more about Thomas’ last job because he was killed in an accident on the way to work at the Wee McGregor mine at Hightville. Thomas also died intestate and away from his family which meant the Public Curator became involved. I can only assume that work and money were in short supply and that is why he took the job so far away from his family who had moved on to Townsville.

The inquest into his death at Hightville gives me a very vivid account of his last moments including what he looked like and what he was wearing. Without being too morbid, the autopsy also gives me an idea of his health at the time. He was buried at Hightville and I can only assume that his wife and family did not travel out to that remote mining area for the funeral.

His personal belongings were packed up and sent to the Public Curator in Townsville who then passed them on to his widow Elizabeth. Again I am fortunate as I have a list of my ancestor’s personal belongings at the time of his death and in many ways it makes for sad reading. The list is long and detailed under a number of headings – money, equipment, clothing, toiletries, jewellry, stationery, kitchen utensils and foodstuffs.

Under Money there was one item – a cheque for 8 pounds 14 shillings, his final payment from the Hampden Cloncurry Copper Mines. Under Equipment he had a tent, a bed rug, a pillow, a towel, a coathanger, a portmanteau, a sweat rag, a piece of rope and two boxes of matches. Under Jewellery was his watch chain and spectacles and under Stationery there were various writing items including his AWU ticket (Australian Workers Union). Under Kitchen Utensils he had a billy can, two tin dishes, a knife, a fork, two spoons and an enamel pint. Foodstuffs included three tins of dripping, two tins of condensed milk, one tin of Golden Syrup, one tin of luncheon beef, one tin of pork sausages and a bottle of condensed milk.

This list paints a somewhat lonely and less than luxurious life and Thomas was only 60 years old when he fell from the bridge at Hightville on his way to work on that fateful day in June 1918. From Townsville the family moved south to Collinsville and Elizabeth Price eventually lost her sight and moved in with my grandmother in Brisbane. My mother fondly remembers Elizabeth because she always had a lolly in her pockets for when Mum came home from school.

Elizabeth died in 1944, 26 years after her husband Thomas Price died. Eight of her ten children predeceased her as did many of her grandchildren so Elizabeth’s life was one of sorrow as well. I have recently returned from a trip to the various places in NSW that Thomas and Elizabeth lived when they first came to Australia. I found myself wondering what it was like to be continually moving and not really settling anywhere and having your family settle in various places.

Thomas and Elizabeth Price have many descendants today who are grateful that they emigrated to Australia in 1878 and through their pioneering efforts, successive generations have followed and built successful lives. Our ancestor’s toil may not have led to wealth in terms of money, but it has given us knowledge and stories of which we can know them better. Happy Australia Day!


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