Inches in Tasmania
This history of Thomas Inches in Tasmania has been adapted from biographies written by family members in Australia.
Thomas Inches, born in Balbeggie, Perthshire, Scotland on 28 February 1819, is believed to have left school at the age of fourteen, before serving an apprenticeship in the shipbuilding trade - there would have been shipyards on the River Tay, some 5 miles away in Perth. One researcher has him working in a shipyard on Clydeside, around 60 miles away. He is said to have joined a ship's crew as a carpenter and sailed to Tasmania. The year of the voyage is uncertain, because no records have come to light. Since his name does not appear in the 1841 Census, he may have been away at that time. At any rate, he was apparently so impressed with the antipodes that on returning home, he decided to emigrate and settle in Tasmania.
He emigrated from Greenock with his brother Robert, sailing as assisted immigrants on the Marquis of Bute, which arrived in Port Phillip, Victoria on 30 November 1841.
He worked in Victoria for a year and visited New South Wales. By 1844, when James Garth of the Huon was building his 27 ton ketch Caledonia at Desolation Bay, he heard that Thomas Inches was in the country and asked him to help in finishing the vessel. The Caledonia was the first ship built by Thomas Inches in Tasmania and it was also said to be the foundation of shipbuilding on the Huon.
He married James Garth’s daughter Mary on 29 July 1845 at Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church, Hobart.
Thomas and Mary had four daughters and five sons all of whom, with the exception of Adolphus James, who left the Huon for Victoria, were residents in Tasmania.
Thomas Inches seems to have gone into business with two other master shipbuilders, James McLaren and Alexander Harley, who had lived in the colony for fifty years. In 1850 they built a cargo schooner, the Triad, probably at Shipwright’s Point. Thomas Inches had the proud distinction of being one of the first and most successful boat builders in Tasmania, owning his own shipyards at Shipwrights' Point.
As an extension to his shipbuilding activities,
Inches made several trips to the west coast and also explored the Huon River in
search of pine logs suitable for shipbuilding. He is also said to have tried his
luck at the gold diggings.
In the 1850s, he built Laurel Banks on the banks of the Huon River. In the spirit of the pioneers, Thomas & Mary planted their orchard by moonlight, after he got home from working in the shipyard at Shipwright’s Point. The orchard had pears, plums, cherries, holly, flowering trees and apples, which were eventually marketed in Hobart or Sydney.
When shopping was needed, Thomas would leave home by boat at 4am, and row to Flemings Point. He carried a carpet bag, and would walk to Franklin to join the coach to Hobart. This left the Federal Hotel at 6am and took 4 hours to reach Hobart. On arriving at 10am, he would go to Inglis Grocers and leave a list of items to be sent home by steamer. He then did the shopping and business that had to be done. Leaving town on the 4pm coach, he would get to Franklin at 8pm, ready for the walk to Flemings Jetty and the row home.
Two years after Mary died, he
married Rebecca Blofeld, on 6 August 1864. She bore him two more daughters.
Thomas possessed in a remarkable degree qualities of industry, thrift and intelligence. He was an agreeable companion, and made pleasant and shrewd conversation. He often talked of bygone days, but took a very keen interest in current events and activities.
He took an interest in all local matters, and was a prominent member of the Congregational Church. He was also a member of the Board of Advice and Road Board for some years. He was a supporter of yachting and rowing, and was one of the promoters of the Huon Regatta Association, being on the committee for some years. One of their sons, Robert Inches, followed in his father's footsteps and joined the shipbuilding industry. He was later to be considered an even better shipbuilder than his famous father, eventually constructing his own shipyards at Battery Point. Some of the famous racing yachts built by the Inches father and son team were Fairlies, Aisla, and Clutha and later on the steam launch Preana. Robert also built the Swift and Olive. Robert died in 1904 aged fifty-six, four years before his father.