A Van Diemen’s Land Watchmaker and The Hawaiian Chief

London watchmaker Thomas Blakesley and his wife Elizabeth emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land and arrived in Hobart Town in February 1827 on the ship Admiral Cockburn. Thomas advertised and worked in his trade for only a short period in Van Diemen’s Land, while Elizabeth remained in the colony until she died in 1873. What became of Thomas is a story obscured by mystery and intrigue.

Thomas was born in London in November 1784 to fancy hat dealer Benjamin Blakesley and his wife, Rebecca. He became a jack-of-all-trades, claiming skills in carpentry, building, plumbing, painting, and glazier work. On 15 November 1817, he married Elizabeth Rutland, the daughter of London silversmith Jonathan Rutland and Elizabeth Rutland senior. The Rutlands operated a silversmith, jewellery, and precious metal business in Oxford Street, London, which is likely the connection to Thomas working in the watchmaking trade. Jonathan Rutland’s business became insolvent in 1826, and shortly before he was due to appear in bankruptcy court, he died at the age of 78 on 14 December 1826. Thomas and Elizabeth had already departed England a few months earlier.

Shortly after arriving in Hobart Town, Thomas advertised watch, clock, jewellery, sextant, quadrant repairs and other services in Murray Street, near Liverpool Street. Elizabeth, seemingly an enterprising woman, taught music at her residence in Murray Street. Thomas relocated the business to Elizabeth Street (next door to Mr Dunn’s) in August 1827 and, at the time, was selling items including clocks, watches, cutlery, and even a piano. Elizabeth offered ‘an elegant assortment of fashionable millinery, ladies’ dress caps, a handsome puce colour velvet pelisse, babies’ caps, laced frills, pelerins.’ By the end of 1827, the business had expanded to include a more comprehensive range of clothing, artificial flowers, feathers, perfumery, blankets, pickles, sugar, and tea. In July 1828, Thomas placed a notice in the newspaper stating he would only be responsible for debts in his name with a written order from himself. Was the notice aimed at Elizabeth? Was his departure from the colony a few months later connected?

Elizabeth continued business in Hobart Town after Thomas’s departure and seemed to do well in her husband’s absence. She advertised a sale of wearing apparel on Elizabeth Street in December 1828 and, early in 1829, received ladies’ and babies’ wear from England. Occasionally, she advertised watch parts and jewellery for sale. The business moved to different premises on Elizabeth Street in July 1829 and, in early 1833, to New Town Road.

During the 1830s, London solicitor George Pleydell Wilton sought proof of Elizabeth’s existence, requesting an annual certificate. She was the only surviving person out of three named and connected to a lease of land initially granted to Jonathan Rutland in Gloucestershire, England. The 1848 Census shows Elizabeth as the sole occupant of a Campbell Street residence, owned then by Mr McCabe, another indication her husband may have abandoned her. She lived in Hobart Town until her death on 17 July 1873 at her then-residence on Secheron Road. The death record stated she was a 90-year-old jeweller’s widow – acknowledging Thomas, 46 years since he left the colony.

What happened to Thomas? When he left Van Diemen’s Land in September 1828, he may not have intended to return. He quickly set up business in Pitt Street, Sydney, where he worked in his trade until about November 1829. It was around this time that Thomas’s experience working with sextants came into play. Thomas embarked on a voyage with a Hawaiian chief named Boki and a silversmith named Cox. Cox and Thomas made a sextant to measure the exact location of an island in the Pacific to facilitate searching for an abundance of valuable sandalwood essential to Hawaiian trade. Thomas entered an agreement with Chief Boki, who agreed to pay him four thousand five hundred dollars if the venture was successful or nothing if it failed. The ship Kamehameha departed Hawaii on 3 December 1829, carrying nearly 300 souls, including Thomas and Boki. Unfortunately, the trip on the Kamehameha was futile. The actual fate of the ship and its passengers remains a mystery.

© Sallie Mulligan, January 2024.

SEE Hands of Time listing:  BLAKESLEY Thomas

Boki, The Challenges of a Ruling Chief, M. Nogelmeier, 1989.
TAHO: CUS33/1/1 Departure 1828; Index CSO3/1/1B 1835 & CSO1/1/792 File No. 16953 1835; CEN1/1/88 Census 1848; RGD35/1/8 no1565 Death 1873.

Web: Ancestry: London, England, Church of England Baptism 1784; United Kingdom Directory 1790; Select Marriages England 1817; London, England, City Directory 1900.
Englishman (London) 10 December 1826, 24 December 1826; Hobart Town Gazette 24 March 1827, 5 May 1827, 11 August 1827; Tasmanian 21 December 1827, 25 July 1828; Australian 21 October 1828; Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser 17 December 1828; Hobart Town Courier 20 December 1828, 14 February 1829, 14 March 1829, 30 May 1829, 18 July 1829; Hobart Town Chronicle 26 March 1833.