HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

21 December 2015

Old tom and the wreck of the Alladin in Jervis Bay.

This is the story of “Old Tom” Thomas Cleary, who spent his life on the high seas and endured many adventures along the way.  Old Tom, just turned 97 when he told his story to a correspondent from the Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate Parramatta in 1901.

Born in London to Irish parents in 1805.

I have lived under the reign of five sovereigns — George III, George IV, William IV, Queen Vic toria, and Edward VII

Leaving home at the age of 6 his adventures begun.
My calling was not a lofty one by any means.

“I left my mother's apron strings and started on my own. My calling was not a lofty one by any means. I was a street arab — used to tumble alongside the stage coaches for coppers, hold horses, etc. At the ago of 11 I was taken by the Marine Society in Bishopgate-street, and sent to sea, being bound for five years. We traded to the East Indies, and I can tell you I was badly used.”
Well, as soon as we got back to Liverpool I ran away, and walked barefooted to London from Liverpool. Like tho Prodigal Son, I arrived home in a tattered and battered condition, but there was no fatted calf for Tom. They would not take me in, so I started off' and walked from London to Portsmouth and there joined His Majesty's navy and was drafted on to the 7'th gun ship ' Belisle.'

Old Tom sailed to all parts chasing slavers, pirates and opium clippers. Much of his time was spent on the south coast of Africa.
In 1834 he saw service in the China War.

“Here we did plenty of work, both on land and sea. I was wounded three times, in. the head, in tho arm and in the leg, with bullets, but I pulled through all right.”

Tom had served 32 years in the service, after the China War he was paid off and left the service but shortly after rejoined.

“After re-joining I was drafted into a double-banked frigate called 'Tho Hannibal ' — two tiers of guns. I was five years with her, after which I joined 'The- Driver,' Captain Hobart. She was a man of-war steamer. In her we were mostly in the Indies. In 1849 I took my discharge,  was paid off' and camo to Australia in 1850”

Tom was soon back at sea, first joining a whaler at Port Phillip in 1851.

She was the wife of the skipper — a beautiful woman, too. They were all drowned but us two. She went raving mad.

“I was wrecked twice on the coast — first time in tho schooner Colombine, owned by Jack Longford, of Sydney. We were about to enter tho Richmond River bar and it was ebb tide. The skipper was a good navigator, but he did not know anything about bar harbours. I said to him, ' You are not going to try and get in on this ebb tide, are you '! ' He was a bit annoyed, and said, ' Who is skipper of this ship — you or me ?'' As soon as I saw he was determined I started to get ready for a swim. As soon as she struck she shivered and went to pieces and I found myself on a sand spit with an East Indy woman. She was the wife of the skipper — a beautiful woman, too. They were all drowned but us two. She went raving mad. I came back to Sydney bare footed, bare-headed, and the only articles that I owned in the world were a shirt and a pair of trousers.”

We landed on one of the islands, and there I found a mate and bolted.

“I was soon on the sea again. First I joined a whaler called tho ' Phantom,' the luckiest ship that ever sailed. We were out eleven months and came back a full ship — twenty-six hundred barrels of sperm oil. She was a fire-boat ship, sailed by Captain Stammers.  Left her and joined - another whaler — '' The Genii.' In her we got down to the Navigator Islands. We landed on one of the islands, and there I found a mate and bolted. I lived on the island eighteen months, and got married to one of the native girls. She was a beautiful brown-coloured homely girl. We had two children. No, I could not teach her to speak English, but I picked up her language. After living on the island eighteen months I left her and joined another whaler that called there.   My wife was tabooed for three years, and I cursed myself ever after that I left her.”

The whaler that took me off' was called the 'Aladdin.' We were afterwards wrecked in Jervis Bay.

“leakage, they said. Might have been well insured, but I can't say. - After that I quitted the sea and took up the work of stevedore”.

”The wages at first were 5s. a day, then they rose to 8s. and 12s., and then I got married.  That was in the sixties. I had not been married long before my wife died, and then I took to the bush, and have traveled Australia.

”Thirteen years ago I settled down for good in Parramatta, and here I am for good. I am alright now with my pension, and what I earn making and mending blinds. I am 97 years old, am well-known to the police, who give me a good character, and though I like my pint of beer I have never yet  been ' run in ' for any misconduct of any sort.

But Old ' Tom ain't dead by any means.

“I'm good for a long time yet, and while I am able to work I don't want to loaf on any body. Some day I'll call in and give you  an account of my colonial experiences, and  I reckon I have had a few.
' Old Tom.'

full account - http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page8898302

Western Star and Roma Advertiser Toowoomba 1902.

Just one year after the interview above ‘Old Tom” passed away at the Parramatta District Hospital.  After all his adventures he spent his final days making veranda blinds and was well known in the town.
He was bright and well and clear until 10 days before his death when he contracted pneumonia.

It wasn’t the first time ‘Old Tom” had died.
When Tom left the navy he was granted a pension, but owing to illness for 18 months he neglected to draw his pension. Then when he did apply for it he was told that he had been written off as " dead."

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