Thomas Smirk

The name Smirk is one of the best known and most respected in the old Rockingham district. Painstaking research reveals that the only Thomas Smirk to arrive in Western Australia up to 1851 was a 17 year old convict of the same name who was landed from the vessel Mermaid on the 15th of May 1851. Thomas Smirk was only 14 when sentenced to 7 years penal servitude at the Swan River colony after his second conviction of larceny at Manchester in 1848. According to records, Thomas Smirk’s address was given as 20 Watson Street, Manchester, where his brother William, his step-father John Owen and his half sister Margaret Owen also lived. Thomas Smirk’s occupation was listed as a waiter, but upon his arrival this had been altered to shepherd. He was 5 foot 1 inch tall, dark brown hair, grey eyes set in a round face, which was marked with a burn scar under the right jaw, although this may have been covered with a thick bushy beard.

Thomas Smirk worked on John Hardy’s vineyard on Swan Valley. Smirk became a ticket-of-leave man on the 29th August 1851, then was granted a conditional pardon on September 1853, just 2 years after his arrival in Western Australia. Thomas Smirk married into another great pioneering family, when on the 17th October 1855, he married Eliza Hymus, who was born in 1837, and was then 18 years old. Thomas and his wife lived a rather eventful life, from working in sawmills to looking after babies for neighbours. They produced 12 healthy children, after losing their first to a tragic fire when she was 19 months old. The accident was caused by a cow accidentally kicking over a lamp, setting fire to the flimsy bush shelter which was home.

Some memories of the children’s lives are recorded in a book, one of which stated that their school lessons were interrupted often because of guns firing from Fremantle Prison. This was the signal that a convict had escaped. The children would be dismissed, and told not to loiter on the way home. The 3 miles were covered in double-quick time on these occasions. One of the children recalls convicts calling into their home demanding food and clothes, but only to be confronted with a shotgun by Elizabeth, as Thomas was out working. In the 1880’s the Smirk family moved to Jarrahdale where Thomas’ ability with the axe was still useful. Thomas Smirk eventually found eternal rest in Jarrahdale cemetery, although no headstone marks his grave. Thomas’ wife Eliza suffered a fateful accident in the year 1904, at the age of 66 from which she never recovered. She was buried in Fremantle Cemetery.