Born on the 3rd October 1826 in Perthshire, Scotland, George was the son of Charles and Jane Thomson – a well-connected family with property in Surrey England, where the family usually lived. George was educated in Kent and Hertfordshire; then at the age of 16 he was employed in London to commence his Articles of Clerkship and study Law. There, in London, he took part in the Anti Corn Law Agitation and was associated with Chartist leaders.
Chartism was a movement of working classes for greater political power. There were six principles of the Peoples Charter 1838-1848 – Political Reform; Male Suffrage (the right to vote); Secret Ballot; Abolition of a Property Qualification for Parliament; Annual Parliaments; and Equal Representation. This background experience became valuable when George immigrated to Australia. Arriving in Melbourne 19 November 1852, he traveled via Forest Creek (Castlemaine) to arrive in Sandhurst (Bendigo) in April 1853. Shortly after this he became a foundation member of the Anti Gold License Association.
On 13 June 1853 the Association presented a petition to a meeting of some thousands of diggers which included seeking a reduction in gold license fees, equal rights for representation in Government and Land Reform. George became a delegate for Bendigo, and his proposal of passive resistance was supported. This petition was presented to Governor LaTrobe and turned down.
On 27 August 1853 diggers and citizens protested by marching through the streets to the Gold Commissioners camp, each wearing a red ribbon as a symbol of unity. When the storekeepers of Sandhurst had exhausted all supplies of red ribbon, all the red shirts that could be found were then torn into ribbon. The Red Ribbon Rebellion had begun. It was a passive demonstration which eventually provoked a new Act for the Management of the Goldfields in November 1853. (N.B. This was 12 months before the Eureka Stockade episode.)
George Thomson then left Bendigo for some years, travelling the goldfields and visiting or practising law in various towns such as Stawell, Castlemaine, Kyneton and Daylesford where he married Rosalind Harper in 1863.
In early 1875 her returned to Bendigo and went into partnership practising law with solicitor John Thomas Sanders, who was the first Deputy Registrar on the Bendigo Goldfield. Unfortunately Sanders died in April 1875 and Thomson carried on the business alone. He had a brilliant mind and became involved with the struggle for reform of pastoral lands being monopolised by squatters to be apportioned to the people and was elected as a delegate for the Land Convention in Melbourne.
On the 17th January 1889, George collapsed in his office after an overdose of Chloradyne, a proprietory medicine which was used as a narcotic. On the 18th he was buried alongside his former business partner, John Sanders, in the Church of England section E4 of the Bendigo Cemetery. This was probably a matter of convenience as he left a widow with five small children and debts of over 500 pounds.
The grave remained unmarked for some years until Marie Alice Sanders erected two headstones, the first reading “SANDERS – In loving memory of my dear father,
John Thomas Sanders (solicitor), born at Stratford-on-Avon, Warwick, England, died at Wattle Street, Sandhurst, Victoria, 22nd April, 1875; also my only brother, Robert Sanders, drowned in Bendigo Creek, 1854. So long gone, so well remembered. (Inserted by his only daughter and survivor, Maria Alice Sanders, Melbourne Road, Williamstown)”. The second reads “In Memoriam JOHN SANDERS, only son of JOHN THOMAS SANDERS, Solicitor Sandhurst and CHARLOTTE ELLIS SANDERS his wife Born in June 1847 drowned in the Bendigo Creek 1854 buried in the Old Bendigo Cemetery Erected by his only sister and survivor MARIA ALICE SANDERS January 1899.”
George Thomson was never memorialised and only the memory of his labours remained. Now, in 2017, George Thomson will finally be remembered as he should be, with his inclusion in the Bendigo Cemetery Notable Graves Tour and a plaque will be laid at his final resting place in honour of his work as a Notable Pioneer of this town.
Sources: Annals of Bendigo – Bendigo Advertiser
“Bendigo – A History,” by Frank Cusack
“The Red Ribbon Rebellion,” by Geoff Hocking
“Where They Lie,” by Bev Hanson and Annette O’Donaghue
Private notes of Bev Hanson.
Written by Greta Balsillie, January 2017.