Life of Thomas Henderson

After a year as Mayor of the then Town of Hotham, in 1877 Thomas Henderson donated, to the people of Hotham, an elaborate cast iron drinking fountain and canopy.

The canopy stands outside the North Melbourne Post Office.

Thomas Henderson moved from Hotham to Corowa in the early 1890’s and died there in 1907. The following account of his life was published, as an obituary, in the Corowa Free Press on 27th of September 1907.

"We deeply regret having to announce the death, at St Margaret's Private Hospital, of Mr Thomas Henderson, father of Messrs. Henderson Bros., engineers of Corowa. The cause of death was senile decay, the respected gentleman having reached his 85th year.

"The career of the late Mr Henderson was a very interesting one. Mr Henderson was born at Coupar, Angus, near Perth, in Scotland, 85 years ago, and having received a good education, was apprenticed to the engineering trade. He left home at about 18 years of age, and came to Australia about 1850, or 1852, landing in Victoria. There he, for many years, followed his engineering avocation, at first in country districts, but afterwards when the gold discoveries of the early fifties gave such an impetus to trade, he, in conjunction with three partners (since deceased) started the firm of Messrs. T. Henderson and Co., engineers, of Elisabeth street, Melbourne.

The firm worked at the development of agricultural machines. Some time before the great Melbourne land boom he sold the Elisabeth-street business to Mr John W Danks for £25,000, and, with his partners, made a fresh start in a much larger way in North Melbourne or, as it was then called, Hotham.

There Mr Henderson prospered exceedingly, and became a recipient of municipal honours, being elected an alderman several times in succession, and being thrice elected Mayor. During this period, he built two large branch business places at Footscray, and the firm was in almost prosperous condition when the land boom came along and Mr Henderson became one of its array of Victims.

The result was fatal to the gentleman’s Melbourne career, so, with his wife and two sons, he came to Corowa, and the sons founded, with his assistance, the present well-known and progressive engineering firm of Messrs. Henderson Bros., Whose ‘Riverina’ harvesting machines are known and appreciated from one end of the district to the other.

“The late Mr Henderson was, however, best known for his deep knowledge of literature, especially that of his native land, Scotland. His reading of every author worthy of reading such as Burns, Shakespeare, Scot, Tennyson, Dickens, etc., was not only profound, but was of value for reason of his own phenomenally retentive memory, which enabled him to quote anything he had read, ‘by the yard’ so to speak.

This made Mr Henderson a welcome and instructive guest in his own circle, and a famous man everywhere. During his life he frequently lectured on his favourite poet, Robbie Burns, and at meetings of the Melbourne Caledonian Society, of which he was a member. Mr Henderson was regarded as an authority, not only on Burns, but on literature in general.

Scotchmen of Yarrawonga, Albury, Ballarat, North Melbourne and many other places will learn of their respected countryman’s decease with sincere sorrow, as too, will members of the Caledonian Societies, and the Masonic fraternity. Of the latter he was once an active member, but more recently his frail old age prevented his taking an active part in anything.

“The remains of Mr Henderson were interred in the Corowa Old cemetery on Sunday, the funeral very largely attended by his friends and leading townsmen here. The funeral service was impressively read by the Reverend Allan McWatt, of the Presbyterian Church, and the whole of the funeral arrangements were conducted by Mr Chas. Clayton. We tender our respective condolence to Messrs. Henderson Bros. (John and Thomas), in their bereavement. The two sons and their respective families are all who are left to mourn the death of their father.”

As North Melbourne people have observed, in 2000 the City of Melbourne had the canopy of the Henderson drinking fountain renovated, repainted and reinstalled. Work should commence on the reconstruction of the fountain soon and the result is expected to be in place around June 2001.

Henderson Street in North Melbourne is named after Thomas Henderson.

by Nancye Hawkins, 2001. (story first published in the North & West Melbourne News.)

Do you know more about this story? Email: info@hothamhistory.org.au