Thomas Anstey (b 1777)

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

Thomas Anstey, a member of the Bampton Ansteys and an Australian Anstey pioneer, was born in December 1777 in Highercombe, Dulverton to parents John Anstey and Elizabeth Branscombe, who had married earlier that year. Thomas married Mary Turnbull in Edinburgh in 1811 and they had the following children:

  • Ellen Lucy Anstey (b 1812 in London, died in Paris);
  • George Alexander Anstey (b 1814 in Kentish Town, London – he had Anstey hero sons Edgar Oliphant Anstey and Thomas Henry Anstey, amongst others);
  • Thomas Chisholm Anstey (b 1816 in Kentish Town, London – became a Member of Parliament and prominent lawyer);
  • Clara Anstey (b 1817 in London, died in 1836);
  • Arthur Oliphant Anstey (b 1819 Lympstone, Devon, died in 1838);
  • Henry Frampton Anstey (b 1822 Lympstone, Devon, became a “convert to Popery” in 1846, married Adelaide Mary Roberts in Tasmania, Australia in 1853. Henry died a Papal Knight in Rome in 1862, his widow Adelaide Anstey died in 1866 in Worthing, Sussex);
  • Julia Capper Anstey (b 1824 at Anstey Barton, Tasmania, married Dr John Doughty in 1842);

According to a 1908 letter from Thomas Anstey’s grandson Harry Anstey to chief researcher of this project T. J. Anstey, Thomas Anstey owned lands and properties in Dulverton, Somerset and sold them, presumably before migrating to Australia (see Tom’s Correspondence for the original letter).

Thomas Anstey and Mary Turnbull‘s migration from England to Australia is detailed in the ‘Australian Dictionary of Biography‘ where it states:

Although bred to the law, [Thomas] was not attracted to it. He married Mary Turnbull at Edinburgh on 12 March 1811, and then became a partner in a Bond Street house for the sale of printed calicoes. When the firm dissolved, he decided to emigrate and practise agriculture on a large scale. With letters of recommendation from the Colonial Office and influential friends, and with implements, furniture and goods worth more than £8000, he sailed in the Berwick with his wife and three children, arriving at Hobart Town in June 1823. He was given a maximum grant of 2560 acres (1036 ha) which he selected on a tributary of the River Jordan near Oatlands and called Anstey Park. Next year he imported fifty pure bred merinos from the flock of Sir Thomas Seabright, and claimed another maximum grant. He also bought much land and by 1836 had more than 20,000 acres (8094 ha), including some choice pastures that he later planned to irrigate. His fine hospitable home, Anstey Barton, knew no want, but he had much trouble with sheep stealers, Aboriginals and convict servants. Appointed a justice of the peace in 1824, Anstey shared in the ambush and capture of the bushranger William Priest. In 1826 he became coroner and next year police magistrate at Oatlands where he was largely responsible for building a township. To complaints that he used his office as a cloak for malice, he retorted that he had only contempt for ne’er-do-wells and always sought to suit punishment to the crime. Anguish came to his own home when his six-year-old daughter was debauched by assigned servants; in great distress, he and his wife had to give evidence at the trial in Launceston, where the three guilty men were sentenced to death. In 1829 Anstey proposed to Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur that civilian parties be organized for the pursuit and capture of stock thieves and other marauders. The plan was successful, the parties being placed under Anstey’s command, four of them based on Oatlands under his constable and clerk, Jorgen Jorgenson. In 1825 Anstey had suggested to Arthur that the Aboriginals be transported to the southern coast of New Holland, somewhere near the present Fowler’s Bay, where there was little chance of contact with Europeans; if left to their own operations in Van Diemen’s Land, he predicted ‘something like a maroon war’. When it came in 1831 Anstey Barton was the headquarters for the central districts. After he resigned as police magistrate in 1833 Anstey offered to raise a public subscription for George Augustus Robinson for ‘unparalleled and successful exertions’ in conciliating the Aboriginals. Anstey was prominent in petitioning for the continuance of William Sorell’s administration in 1824, and was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1827, with one short break through ill health continuing as a member until 1844. He sometimes complained that land was granted to doubtful characters, but usually acquiesced in Arthur’s policy. Under Sir John Franklin he supported the introduction of undenominational education in the British and Foreign Schools system, and deplored the ‘cumbrous machinery’ of alternative proposals. His dislike of sectarian rivalry for state aid never weakened, but he was never averse to state aid for rural employers. When the supply of assigned labour was reduced by the probation system he declared that masters were paralysed by the loss of their convict servants and merited compensation ‘like the slave-owners’. He also spoke darkly of resisting the ‘fearful doings of the Colonial Office’. After retirement from the Legislative Council, in 1845-46 Anstey visited South Australia, whence in 1849 Judge (Sir) Charles Cooper came to recuperate for three months at Anstey Barton. As a leading settler Anstey espoused many good causes and helped to promote agricultural associations and country fairs with vice-regal support. He was a founding shareholder of the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land and a director of the Derwent Bank. As a devout Anglican he subscribed to the first church at Jericho in 1831 and, because no ordained clergyman was available, he succeeded in having William Pike appointed as stipendiary catechist. Later he was largely responsible for obtaining Rev. George Morris for Oatlands, and for the building there of St Peter’s Church; tradition credits him with donating the site and much of the funds on condition that the tower was visible from Anstey Barton. His declining years were saddened by the dispersion of his family, but he remained widely respected and an acknowledged leader, outstanding among the enterprising private settlers for his livestock and efficient management as well as for his urbanity, humour and wise counsels. He died at Anstey Barton on 23 March 1851 and was buried in the family vault in the Anglican churchyard at Oatlands. His wife returned to England where she died in 1862, aged 85. In 1860 Anstey Park had been subdivided and sold, and its hospitable homestead passed from the family’s hands.

[Citation details ‘Anstey, Thomas (1777–1851)‘, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/anstey-thomas-1709/text1859, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 27 March 2021.]

If you would like to add anything to this biography, or if you are descendent from Thomas Anstey and would like to share more stories of the Ansteys of this sub-branch in Australia, please contact us at research@theansteystory.com.

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