Friday, 30 August 2013

Thomas Dixon's suicide attempt in 1847

Three of my male ancestors, all unrelated, committed suicide by way of their shaving razors. This is the story of one of them. The other two stories will follow.

My 4x great grandfather, Thomas Dixon, came to Tasmania aged about 20 from Raby, in Sunderland, England. He arrived in the early 1820’s to meet up with his half-brother George, and his brother Robert Dixon who was the Assistant Surveyor to John Oxley and who surveyed most of northern NSW & southern Qld. He came from a family of surveyors and astronomers, the most notable one being his great-uncle, Jeremiah Dixon, who was the British surveyor of the US Mason-Dixon Line fame.

For a few years Thomas was the licensee of the iconic Hope and Anchor Tavern that still stands on the corner of Macquarie St and Market Place in Hobart today. In 1825 he married Lincolnshire-born Helen Brownlow, and they moved to Sydney with their seven children in 1837, where he was recorded as a Spirit Merchant and opened a hay & grain store in George St Sydney, opposite the markets. This enterprise was in conjunction with his brother-in-law, Richard Brownlow. Helen died “after a lingering illness” in 1842, five years before Thomas’ death at age 46.

The NSW Government Gazette of 30 April 1847 has Thomas appointed by the Colonial Secretary to assist in revising the electoral lists, so he must have had some standing in Sydney at the time.

The incident happened like this: On 29 July 1847 he dined and then stayed overnight with a friend in Darlinghurst, Mr Thomas Bird. Thomas Bird was an architect, surveyor, and estate agent. Dixon was apparently uninclined to go to Sydney where there was a warrant out for him for striking a woman (details still to be uncovered despite many hours and even days of searching). Apparently he only drank “three glasses and a half of colonial ale” and although a man of few words, was in great spirits, discussing business with Mr Bird, after having been at the beach all day. Thomas’ 17-year-old son John was there very early the next morning when Mr Bird woke, saying that Thomas was going to cut his throat and that he had a razor in his pocket, and his cravat was off. John followed Thomas to the privy, where the act had was done. Thomas said “Let me finish myself – I’ll be transported”. They dressed his wounds and took him to the Infirmary, where Dr McEwan said in the inquest that “the windpipe was not cut, nor had any blood vessels of importance been touched. He never assigned any cause for having committed the act, nor did he make the slightest allusion to it.” The Doctor said that the wound wasn’t life-threatening, although he may have lost some blood at some time, although the “profuse suppuration consequent upon the wound” may have accelerated his death. The Doctor had reason to believe Thomas also “had some organic affection of the liver”. Possibly Thomas died from an infection from his own razor. He lingered for 17 days after the suicide attempt, leaving 3 sons and 3 daughters to mourn him. I presume he was buried with Ellen at the Devonshire Street Cemetery (still to be confirmed) as it was the one for Sydney-siders at the time.


  1. Wow, how very sad! I noticed in the last newspaper account that severe mental depression was mentioned. I wonder if he just never got over the death of his wife a five years earlier. Those poor six children left behind. Do you know what happened to them?

    Welcome to GeneaBloggers!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jana. Within a month of Ellen dying Thomas had listed their house for sale, so he was pretty grief-stricken I presume. I don't know if it sold or not, as I can't find out the plot number. As for the children, I'd assumed they were all adults, but since you asked I've checked and when Ellen died in 1842 the eldest was 16 & the youngest was just 4, so when Thomas died 5 years later they ranged from 21 down to 9. Something to definitely chase up. The eldest was a girl, so presumably she was lumped with all of them. Thanks for that! Yet another puzzle to solve. Add it to the pile :)

  2. Hi Janelle,

    Welcome to Genealoggers!!

    I'm a genealogy addict as well for about 35 years. I even have a pinterest account where I have many boards dedicated to genealogy. I have another blog as well.

    Regards, Grant

  3. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist:

  4. Thanks for the welcome everyone! I'm proud to be part of the community. Looking forward to reading your blogs as well :)