Major James F Thomas - Tenterfield, NSW, Australia
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Grahame Cookie
S 29° 03.445 E 152° 00.092
56J E 402800 N 6785241
Quick Description: The headstone is for Major Thomas, who was the defense attorney in the 'Breaker' Morant trial.
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Date Posted: 7/3/2019 11:38:16 PM
Waymark Code: WM10WYX
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member wayfrog
Views: 3

Long Description:
This headstone gives scant details on the importance (to Australia) that the legal work of James Francis Thomas (1861-1942) performed at the end of the second Boer War.

"Born on August 25, 1861, the eldest of three children, he attended the King’s School, Parramatta, in western Sydney... [After studying law at Sydney University he established a practice at Tenterfield in 1887. Thomas was reportedly one of a group of townspeople who successfully lobbied NSW Premier Henry Parkes to give his historic Federation speech at Tenterfield’s School of Arts on the evening of October 24, 1889.]

"Thomas’ leadership qualities were borne out in 1895 when his local reservist troop, the Tenterfield Rifles, won the prestigious statewide trophy, the Hutton Shield, then awarded to the elite of Australia’s Light Horse contingents on the basis of dress, drill, cavalry attack, marksmanship, horsemanship, fire discipline and command. They were skills, according to Bleszynski, that, “while not honed in the heat of battle, would come in useful when the Empire sent out the call to the colonies for able-bodied young men to defend her honour when war was declared in South Africa in October 1899”.

"Thomas was among the first to volunteer; Military Headquarters commissioned him Captain and requested he urgently raise a contingent for South Africa. Within less than three weeks, on November 3, 1899, the first mounted contingent known as A Squadron NSW Citizens’ Bushmen was dispatched to the Boer War under his command.

"And Thomas did his hometown proud, with three mentions in dispatches during the Boer War, including his award of the Queen’s Medal with four clasps for heroic actions.

"At Elands River in the Transvaal, his troop and a smaller contingent of Rhodesians lost 75 men while holding out against 1000 enemy troops and guns for 13 days, refusing to surrender on any terms, before eventually being relieved by British forces.

"Having served 12 months in South Africa, the NSW Bushmen contingent embarked at Cape Town on May 9, 1901, for its return to Australia – one officer and 29 men having either died or been killed. The survivors, Thomas included, disembarked in Sydney on June 11, 1901...

"Thomas resigned from the NSW Bushmen’s corps, returned to South Africa, and almost immediately found himself railroaded into the position of advocate, with the rank of Major, before the court martials of Morant, Handcock and George Witton." [Quotes from, Lighthorse website: James Thomas]

“Thomas cared too much. He made the cardinal mistake in legal practice of getting personally involved. He was one bloody decent human being, a man Australia has yet to recognise as a figure of national importance.”
Article courtesy of Anthony Hoy, taken from ‘The Bulletin’, April 4, 2000

A square bronze plaque at the foot of Major Thomas's grave has the following transcription:

Major James Francis Thomas

1861 - 1942
"Commanding Officer "A" Squadron New South Wales Citizens Bushmen

Country lawyer, volunteer soldier and friend to the death

James Francis Thomas began his career in law on 28 May, 1887. After practicing briefly in Sydney, he moved to Emmaville in 1888 and then to Tenterfield in January 1890.

"Thomas served for some years in the Tenterfield arm of the voluntary Upper Clarence Light Horse where he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1891 and Captain by 1895.

"He was among the early officers to volunteer for service to South Africa at the outbreak of the Boer War in late 1899. Having been given command of a squadron Thomas sailed for South Africa in February 1900 and was promoted to the rank of Major on 29 January 1901. He served with courage and distinction especially during the Rhenocter Kep and Bland's River Battles. He was awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal with four campaign clasps.

"Major Thomas is best remembered for his defense of Lieutenant Harry Morant, Peter Handcock, George Witton and other Bushveldt Carbineers officers in the general British Court Martial proceedings held at Pietersburgh in the northern Transvaal in early 1902. The execution of Lieutenant Morant and Handcock shook Thomas. After the end of the Boer War on 31 May 1902, Thomas remained in South Africa and became associated with local sympathisers in a crusade for Witton's release from gaol in Britain.

"In civilian life, apart from his law practice, Thomas for a period owned the Tenterfield Star newspaper. He retained a lively interest in researching and writing the history of Tenterfield and supported many causes to further the progress of his community."

Visited: 1217, Monday, 28 January, 2019

Which Boer War?: Not listed

Boer War Website: Not listed

First Boer War (Alternate Name): Not listed

Second Boer War (Alternate Name): Not listed

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