John Thomas

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Walter E. Pidgeon, Illustration from The Eureka Stockade by Raffaello Carboni, Sunnybrook Press, 1942, offset print.
Art Gallery of Ballarat, purchased 1994.


"Plan of Camp Defences, October 1854, PROV, VPRS1189/PO, Unit 92, J54/12.058

John Thomas was born in England in 1822. He was educated at Sandhurst and entered the army in 1839. He received a commission in the 40th Regiment of Foot and served with this regiment in the Afghan War (1841-42). He reeived the Bronze Mahajpoor Star in 1843 for his time during the Afghan Wars. Thomas came to Australia with the regiment and was stationed at Ballarat in 1854.[1]

Sir John Thomas died in 1904.[2]

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Captain Thomas was a battle hardened soldier of some brilliance. He carried out his duties of the 40th Regiment at Ballarat. He did not wait for reinforcements from Melbourne deciding to attack the stockade early in the morning of 03 December 1854. He felt the attack had to be made before the diggers made their position too strong.[3]

... Meanwhile in this whole distracted scene there was one cool brain with a clear purpose in it. Captain Thomas was a capable soldier, who could form a plan, keep it hidden in the cells of his own brain till the moment for action came, and then carry it out with swift and unfaltering resolution. He had seem it may be seen with soldierly indignation an armed fort, with a strange flag, and men drilling for combat - built within cannon shot of the spot where the Queen's flag flew, But he also saw, with a soldiers glance that the Stockade for him was an opportunity. To attempt operations in miners, scattered over many square miles of rough country, would have been a business at once perilous and useless. Moreover, the miners, as a whole class were not committed to the dangerous spirits of the movement to miners, scattered over many square miles of rough country, would have been a business at once perilous and useless. Moreover, the miners, as a whole class were not committed to the rising. ... Then Thomas sent the word all to arms through the camp. His plans were business like, but his force was small. It consisted of 65 men of the 12th Regiment, under Captain Quade; 87 men of the 40th, under Captain Wise ; 100 mounted police, 24 foot police-at foot ... and by 3 am. they moved out in silence on their adventure. The night was still black when the attacking force silently defiled from the camp and began its march towards the Stockade. Thomas had made his arrangements cleverly. Part of the mounted police swept to the left of the Stockade, to threaten its flank and rear. The direct attack was made by detachments of the 12th and 40th; and, with a shrewd soldier's judgment, Thomas made his stroke at the Stockade where the slope was steepest . He judged that the attack would be least expected there, and that amateur troops, 'firing down" a slope in the dark, would be sure to fire over the heads of his soldiers When the attacking party, marching in strictest silence, came within 300 yards of the Stockade, the detachments of the 12th and 40th extended them selves in skirmishing order, and then advanced, still without firing a shot. Half the remaining distance had just been covered when there was a stir in the Stockade; a dozen muskets flashed through the darkness on the troops. The Queen's troops had been fired upon in the Stockade was an ex-soldier who had seen active service in India under Lord Gough. ...[4]

Post 1854 Experiences

After the Stockade battle Captain Thomas insisted upon leniency towards the miners.[5]

Captain John TShomas was promoted to major because of his decisive steps he too to suppress a riots amongst the diggers. He went to China in 1860 and fought at Taku Forts, and in 1869, became a Major-General. He received a Companion of the Bath and a Knight of the Order of the Bath. This allowed him to take the title of Sir Thomas. When he retired he was an Honourable Lieutenant-general. He loved out his retirement years in Kensington, London.[6]


The death has been announced in England of Lieutenant-General John Wellesley Thomas, who was one of the officers commanding the British soldiers engaged in the fight with the Ballarat diggers at Eureka Stockade on December 3, 1851, Deceased, who was 85 years of age, held the rank of captain at the time of the storming of the stockade. His brother officer, Captain Wise, of the 40th Regiment, was mortally wounded. The remains of Captain Wise were interred in the Ballarat old cemetery with those of several other British soldiers killed in the action. Sir John Wellesley Thomas, who died on February 6, latterly held the honorary rank of colonel of the Hampshire Regiment. Early in 1855 he was promoted to the rank of major, in recognition of his services at the Eureka Stockade as chief officer in command of the 40th Regiment.[7]

In The News

Unknown maker (Australia), The flag of the Southern Cross (Eureka Flag), 1854, wool, cotton.
Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection. Gift of the King family, 2001
The Eureka Anniversary. It went without much in tile way of celebration, but the 3rd December was one of the historic anniversaries of the colony. The following abbreviated account of the storming of the Eureka Stockade, on the 3rd December, 1854 - one of the best yet published-is taken from "The Early Days of Victoria" in the current number of the "Australian Journal." After describing the events of the week previous and the reasons why Captain Thomas of the 40th, then in command, resolved to attack the stockade early on Sunday morning, the writer goes on to say : in pursuance of this determination Captain Thomas, who was ably assisted by Captain Pasley, R.E., and Captain Wise, had the whole force at his disposal under arms by 2 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, 3rd December. Mr Commissioner Amos, who was intimately acquainted with the locality, acted as guide, and led the troops to within a quarter of a mile of the Stockade. The force consisted of 30 picked men of the 40th Regiment; mounted, under the command of Lieutenants Hall and Gardyne; 87 men of the same regiment, under Captain Wise and Lieutenants Bowdler and Richards; 65 men of the 12th Regiment, under Captain Queade and Lieutenant Paul; 70 mounted police, under Sub-inspectors Furnell, Langley, Chomley and Lieutenant Cossack; 24 foot police, under Sub-Inspector Carter. Total, 100 mounted and 176 foot. The troops reached the ground just as the morning began to dawn, and when about 300 yards from the Stockade the detachments of the 12th and 40th Regiments ex tended in skirmishing order. The mounted men moved to the left, and threatened the flank and rear of the insurgents. As the advance in this order was being made, a sentry within the Stockade gave the alarm by firing his piece. Upon hearing the shot Captain Thomas said "We are seen. Forward, and steady, men ! Don't fire ; let 'the insurgents fire first. You wait for the sound of the bugle." Within the Stockade were about 150 men, and when the soldiers had approached to the distance of about 150 yards they fired a volley, which wounded Captain Wise, Lieutenant Paul, and three men of the 12th Regiment, and killed two and wounded one man of the 40th. Then the bugle sounded the order to fire, and a general discharge brought down all the insurgents who were visible above the enclosure; nine were killed by this volley. Then the order, "On, 40th! Forward!" was heard, and the soldiers cheered, and notwithstanding scattered shots fired at them, rushed at the enclosure with fixed bayonets, followed by the foot police. The hastily arranged face of the enclosure did not impede the troops an instant, and, breaking through it, a series of combats ensued between brave diggers armed with pikes for their ammunition was spent and the soldiers, who had loaded muskets and bayonets fixed. Some, as the swarm of police joined the soldiers, took refuge in the shallow holes and smithy, and, as one of the military officers wrote, many were put to death in the first heat of the conflict, either by bullet or bayonet thrusts." In less than ten minutes the resistance and slaughter were over. Nine soldiers were wounded, one fatally, in the hand-to-hand combats within the Stockade. Vern, with a number of his companions, did not wait to exchange blows with the troops, but escaped by the rear of the Stockade. Lalor, when the troops fired their first volley, was standing upon the top of a logged-up hole close to the barricade, and was shot in the left shoulder as he was in the act of signing to the defenders to retire to the rifle pits. When wounded he fell under a stack of slabs, some of which, in falling, partially covered him, and when the soldiers charged by the spot he was left for dead. While, the soldiers were busy among the tents making prisoners, three non-combatants, whose curiosity brought them to the spot, saw him, and carried him a short distance down the Eureka Lead to a hollow pile of slabs, into which they lifted him. When the resistance was over, fifteen of the diggers lay dead, sight were fatally wounded,and thirty to forty others were more or less severely wounded, some of whom subsequently died. The Southern Cross flag had been torn down by one of the police at an early stage of the combat, and was carried off to the camp. The troops set fire to all the tents In the enclosure and the immediate vicinity, and collecting all the prisoners, to the number of 125, marched back to the camp. Captain Wise died of his wounds before the week ended. [8]

See also

Ballaarat Old Cemetery

Andrew Hermiston


Henry Wise

Further Reading

Blake, Gregory, To Pierce the Tyrant's Heart,Australian Military History Publications, 2009.


  1. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  2. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  3. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  4. Euroa Advertiser, 03 September 1909.
  5. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  6. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  7. The Mercury, 24 March 1908.
  8. Oakleigh Leader, 15 December 1894.

External links

Portrait -