Ballina pioneer Thomas Ainsworth’s headstone in the pioneer cemetery overlooking Shaw’s Bay.
Ballina pioneer Thomas Ainsworth’s headstone in the pioneer cemetery overlooking Shaw’s Bay. Samantha Elley

Tales from the grave: New Chum Tom a Ballina pioneer

IT WOULD be difficult enough to set yourself up in an embryonic settlement, but to do it with a young family - wife and three children - would introduce a world of its own challenges.

This is what Thomas Ainsworth faced when he decided to take his family all the way up the north coast of Australia to settle in the crude colony known as Ballina.

Thomas was a mariner and shipbuilder and when he married Ellen they moved to the mouth of the Moruya River, on the south coast.

He built a two-mast schooner, 48 tonnes in weight, called the Matilda Ann which they used to sail up to the mouth of the Richmond River where the vessel ran aground on the treacherous shifting sand-bank.

His son James Ainsworth remembers how the whole coastline was unlit with no lighthouses to direct the ship up the coast.

Ellen and the children were rowed to shore and had to walk to the nearby settlement.

In 1847 Ballina was little more than a settlement of cedar-cutters and the new family of Thomas, Ellen and their three children James, Jane and Susan, quickly set about establishing a shelter on the land where the Shaw's Bay Hotel now stands.

Thomas was quickly given the nickname "New Chum Tom" and Shaw's Bay was called New Chum's Bay for several years until James Shaw later erected a house on its northern shore.

Thomas established a public house called The Sailors' Home as well as continuing on with his ship building in the 1850s.

New Chum Tom died suddenly in 1864, some time between March 4 and 6.

He was last seen leaving Eyles Public House at 11pm on the Friday night of March 4 and his body was found at 3pm on the Sunday in the water between the public house and Brown's wharf.

His grave and headstone is part of the Pioneer Memorial Park at East Ballina.

REFERENCES:

  • Ainsworth family in Australia (family document),
  • Reminiscences: Ballina in the Early Days 1847-1922 by James Ainsworth and Thomas Russell
  •  Ancestry.com.au


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