Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Thomas Harris (1885-1948)

More photographs of Thomas Harris at Camden Park are available at the end of this brief biography. Simply click on the highlighted words.

Thomas Harris was born in England on the 6th January, 1885 at Overbury, Worcestershire, the tenth child of Job & Elizabeth Harris (nee Archer). Thomas grew up on the Overbury Estate where his family had lived and worked for generations. Thomas attended the local school with his siblings and on Sundays attended St. Faith’s Church of England, Overbury. When he finished his schooling he followed the family tradition and went to work on the Estate as a domestic gardener for the Holland-Martin family at Overbury Court.

He was a member of the Overbury Band of Hope, a temperance organization for working-class children. On the 6th January, 1910 he was presented with an engraved carriage clock by the members of the Overbury Band of Hope for twenty years service.

The 1911 UK Census found Thomas working as a gardener at Heligan, St. Austell, Cornwall, a 1000 acre estate that had been in the Tremayne family for 400 years.  The Tremaynes travelled the world, including Australia, collecting plants and trees for their many themed gardens. [The gardens were abandoned after WWI. Restored in the 1990’s they are now a famous tourist attraction, The Lost Gardens of Heligan].

At the latter end of 1912 Thomas left Heligan and emigrated to Australia, leaving behind his mother and family, never to see them again, but keeping in touch via letters and photographs. His reasons for coming to Australia are not known, but the Macarthurs often recruited employees from overseas and this may have been the case with Thomas. On arrival in Australia, he first went to work at Wagga Wagga, most probably on a Macarthur holding [possibly the Nangus property], for a period of six months, where he stooked hay until moving to Camden Park Estate to live and work.

His first known wage at Camden Park is recorded as the 31st May, 1913, for orchard work.  A few years later he was working in the gardens of Camden Park House and living in the boarding house.

Thomas worked closely with Arthur Burton Hawkey (then Head Gardener) and his son, Arthur Edward (Ted) Hawkey, also a gardener, and, on the 17th July, 1918 at St. John’s Church of England, Camden he married Arthur Burton Hawkey’s daughter, Violet Ann.  They had three children, Edna Elizabeth (1920-1977), Doris Lilian (1922-2007) and Violet Mary (b.1926).  Doris and Mary were born at Camden Park and Edna in Camden.

A residence was built for Thomas & Violet not far from Camden Park House. Thomas & Violet’s three daughters attended Menangle Public School, taken by horse and dray, and the Camden Park Estate School. The family regularly attended church on Sundays at St. John’s Church of England, Camden. Thomas’ daughters, Edna and Doris, were both confirmed at St. John’s Church of England.

During Thomas’ working years as a gardener, he was in charge of the hot houses. [Photographs 1, 2 and 3.] The glasshouses maintained a permanent collection of more delicate plants and provided the house with a regular supply of cut flowers and potted plants. Photograph 4 is a close-up of the main illustration showing that Thomas has a potted Daphne odorata in his hand, no doubt destined for the house.

An important job was to stoke the fire of the large boiler that heated all of the hot houses. This had to be done every day, morning and night. On many occasions his daughters accompanied him to the boiler house. Mary and Doris remembered crossing the paddock by lantern light and then descending the stairs into the boiler pit and watching while their father stoked the fire. [Photographs 5, 6 and 7.]

During the years at Camden Park Thomas and his family saw many a prominent person visit the estate, including the Duke (future King George VI) and Duchess of York (future Queen Mother) who were in Australia for the opening of Parliament House, Canberra in 1927.  On this occasion, the family waved to the Duchess of York as she passed by their home in an open carriage.  The Duke of York was also seen riding a white horse on the estate.

In 1938, Thomas and family left Camden Park Estate and moved to Eastwood, Sydney, where Thomas made a living as a nurseryman, working from home, growing carnations and other flowers. Thomas had lived and worked at Camden Park for over 25 years. The family all had great memories of their time there and would make regular visits back to see relatives still living there.

In Australia, Thomas had continued to support the temperance movement. When he and his family moved to Eastwood he joined a local temperance organization, a Caledonian Society, where the family regularly attended Scottish dance evenings and joined in with Halloween celebrations.

Thomas passed away at Eastwood on the 21st January, 1948 and was cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium. His wife, Violet, passed away in 1957 and was also cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium.

The information for this brief biography was kindly provided by Judy Weir, grand-daughter of Thomas Harris.


Additional photographs

Photograph 1 - Thomas Harris & violet Mary Harris, Camden Park gardens, c.1937. The thatched building on the left is the tool shed shown on the main photograph, marked as such on the 1890 plan. The large greenhouse on the right is the Orchid House. Photograph courtesy of Judy Weir.

Photograph 2 - Thomas Harris in the Greenhouse, c.1937. Plants were grown here for decorating the house. In the 1890s it was known as the Cineraria House, in recognition of this role. Photograph courtesy of Judy Weir.

Photograph 3 – Greenhouse today, very little changed from Thomas’ time.

Photograph 4 – Thomas with a potted Daphne odorata in his hand, no doubt destined for the house. This is a detail from the main photograph.

Photograph 5 - Exterior view of the main boiler house, attached to the Stove, which can be seen on the right. Date unknown, believed to be 1960s. It had probably changed very little since the 1930s and was demolished shortly afterwards, the roof dismantled and the pit filled with soil and rubbish.

Photograph 6 - The main boiler, buried for decades and uncovered in 2007. This photograph was taken towards the end of excavation. This powerful boiler is a Britannia, made in Hull and probably installed c.1905, replacing all the older, less efficient boilers and no doubt entailed much less work for Thomas and his colleagues.

Photograph 7 - Volunteer Colin assisting with ongoing maintenance of the boilers. The boiler in the background is a saddle boiler c.1870. This may have originally come from the Stove boiler pit but the Orchid house boiler pit was also equipped with these. We also have a boiler c.1840s, probably used in the first glasshouse, completed in 1846.