The grave of Major James Francis Thomas (Major J F Thomas) is in the cemetery in Tenterfield. Thomas was born in 1861 in St Marys NSW, starting his career in law in Sydney before moving to Tenterfield.
Major Thomas went to the war with Sir Harry Chauvel, another historical military person from the Tenterfield region. Both are represented in the Centenary Cottage Museum in Tenterfield where more information about their lives can be found.
Major Thomas became known for his legal defence for six officers in South Africa during the Boer War, the last Australian soldiers tried by a British Court Martial. Harry Morant and Peter Handcock were sentenced to death and executed by firing squad less than 18 hours after the verdict. George Witton was also sentenced to death but commuted to life in prison.
A number of petitions have been raised over the years for the pardon of soldiers Harry Morant and Peter Handcock was started. The men were denied the right for an appeal to the King, and Major Thomas had never been an advocate in a Court Martial before with only one day’s notice before the trial.
Thomas established a law practice in Tenterfield in 1887 which continued until 1919 when it was sold. Thomas owned “The Tenterfield Star”, a country newspaper which he owned for more than 16 years, selling it in 1915.
There is no brown sign on the streets for Major J. F. Thomas’ grave. The signs (there are two of them) are within Tenterfield Cemetery, one on a pathway at the row the grave is located, and the other above his grave.
Major James Francis Thomas
1861 – 1942
Commanding Officer ‘A’ Squadron New South Wales Citizen’s Bushmen
Country lawyer volunteer soldier and friend to the dead
James Francis Thomas began his career in law on 23 May 1887. After practicing briefly in Sydney, he moved to Emmaville in 1888 and then Tenterfield in January 1890.
Thomas served for some years in the Tenterfield arm of the volunteer Upper Clarence Light Horse where he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1891 and Captain in 1895.
He was among the early officers to volunteer for service in South Africa at the outbreak of the Boer War in late 1899. Having been given command of a squadron Thomas sailed for South Africa if February 1900 and was promoted to the rank of Major on 29 January 1901. He served with courage and distinction especially during the Rhenoster Kop and Eland’s River battles. He was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four campaign clasps.
Major Thomas is best remembered for his defence of Lieutenants Harry Morant, Peter Handcock, George Wilton and other Bushveldt Carbineers officers in the general British Court Marshall proceedings held at Petersburgh in the northern Transvaal in early 1902. The execution of Lieutenants 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.Plaque at the grave of Major J P Thomas
To get there:
From the New England Hwy, the main street in Tenterfield, turn into Douglas St at the brown sign for Railway Museum. Follow Douglas St for 1.5km and turn right onto Western St. The entrance to the cemetery is immediately on the left.
To get to the grave, walk into the cemetery at the entrance and follow the path to the end, about 75m, turn left and walk another 25m, then turn right. About 25m up the path you will see a brown sign pointing to the left. Head along the grave sites for 40m or so to arrive at Major J. P. Thomas’ grave.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes, with assistance. Unlevel ground and narrow space and grass between rows of grave sites.