Ballina & Richmond River GenWeb

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FENWICK

Thomas Fenwick was born in 1842 at Newburgh, Fife, Scotland. His parents were Andrew Fenwick & Ann Bissett. Andrew was a shoemaker. Ann died & Andrew married Elizabeth Bain in 1846. The family moved to Australia in 1849. Andrew worked as a shoemaker & then a ballast contractor.

Thomas & his brother John formed the partnership J & T Fenwick & purchased the Atlantic in 1867.

Thomas married Mary Cummings at Sydney in 1872. Their first son, Andrew, was born in 1873. Thomas then relocated his family to the Richmond when they sailed there on his ship the 'Atlantic' in 1874. Here Thomas established a towing service for shipping. The first tug of J & T Fenwick was the 'Alchymist'.

In the 1870's there was intense competition between the owners of tugs to pick up work at the Ballina bar. When a timber fleet vessel approached the heads, the tugs would be waiting to be engaged to tow them up the river. The market was quite lucratuve. William Yeager was the most prominent tug owner, with his drougher 'Keystone'. Thomas Fenwick formed Yeager's most serious competition & Yeager replaced the 'Keystone' with the 'Athletic' to keep up with faster vessels.

Thomas Fenwick was known as a strong - willed, blunt man & a daring seaman. Thomas was said to be an aggressive man & a mean foe. His dominance in Ballina was well known. Story has it that when Thomas Fenwick realised the popularity of LacklanMcKinnin (who captained William Yabsley's "Index') in securing 'tows' he ran his tug into the 'Index' out of spite!

Thomas' new brigantine, the 'Andrew Fenwick' disappeared on a trip up the coast, never to be seen again. The 'Atlantic was sadly lost with cargo, crew & passengers. Thomas' brother John's brigantine 'Susannah Booth' was lost at Ballina while Thomas was piloting it through the heads. Thomas almost lost his own tug in this incident.

Rivalry between Thomas Fenwick & Lacklan McKinnon became so feirce, that restrictions were drawn up by harbour authorities. Fenwick refused to abide by these. The 'Alchymist' was was totally wrecked at Woody Point, north of the Clarence. To ensure that Fenwick beat McKinnon to secure jobs, Fenwick purchased a new paddle steamer called the 'Francis Hixon'. He could offer a better tow than the 'Index' & taunted McKinnon mercilessly. Because of the conflict & loss of business, Wiliam Yabsley decided to withdraw the 'Index' from service.

Thomas also developed a business in buying & selling timber. He freighted the timber to Sydney. In 1883, the partnership between the brothers dissolved, John keeping the Sydney business & Thomas, the Richmond River fleet.

Thomas Fenwick prospered & became a powerful business man between 1870 & 1890. He was well known as a worthy tug master & was widely recognised as an expert in bar work & his prowess at the wheel usually ensured safety. He built a two story house near the sea. 'Fenwick House' was located at Shaws Bay. The second story balconies overlooked the river & the sea. Massive cedar doors marked the entry & a carved cedar staircase led the way to the upstairs rooms.

Mary died in 1882 & Thomas married Mary Shaw (the widow of Thomas Haplin) later in the same year. Thomas died in 1896 in Sydney, as the result of an incident on the bar & his remains were returned to Ballina where he was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery.


Photo taken of Fenwick House in July 2002.




Copy of page originally transcribed by Mandy O'Neill (content remains unedited)
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