Forgotten hero of a forgotten natural disaster

Thomas Livermore is a forgotten hero, as is the natural disaster in which he became known to Lords, Earls, Governors, Knights and Mayors. The story of how he received his gallantry medal in 1887 is as interesting as the way in which he earned it. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

It was a Queensland cyclone in 1887 which was one of the worst natural disasters that you’ve probably never heard of. A man was drowned at Woolloongabba and another in South Brisbane. Three girls aged seven to ten were drowned. A crewman of a barque on the Brisbane River was drowned. At Logan a family of five were drowned, along with two more men, and another man and his son.

At Ipswich, Brisbane Street was fifteen feet under water as seen in the remarkable one hundred ands forty-four year old image above. It’s a scene in Ipswich that was destined to be repeated many times in subsequent, better known, disasters. It was thanks to an Ipswich blacksmith labourer, twenty-six-year-old Thomas Shedrick Livermore, that there weren’t any drownings there on this occasion.

Thomas Livermore was lauded as a hero and bestowed a bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society of Australasia. It was awarded on Monday the 4th of July 1887 at the Exhibition Building in Sydney by Lord Carrington who was the governor of New South Wales. The Sydney mayor Alban Riley was there. So too was Lord Brassey who was later the governor of Victoria.

The only problem was that the hero Thomas Livermore himself wasn’t there – he was at work back in Ipswich.

So the medal was sent to Brisbane by steamer and arrived three weeks later to be presented by the Queensland governor Sir Anthony Musgrave. But he didn’t present it to Thomas Livermore either. Instead the medal was given to the Queensland colonial secretary Berkeley Moreton who was later the 4th Earl of Ducie. Moreton didn’t present it either, but passed the medal to the Ipswich police magistrate Mr William Yaldwyn.

Luminaries who didn’t present the medal – Lord Carrington, Lord Brassey, Alban Riley, Sir Anthony Musgrave, Earl of Ducie.

And so on the evening of Thursday the 7th of September 1887 – more than two months after Lord Carrington had intended to present it in Sydney – the bronze medal was finally pinned on the chest of Thomas Livermore at the Ipswich School of Arts building. There was a large attendance and Thomas said he didn’t understand why there was any honour attached to going into the water that day, and that he’d do the same again if called to do so. He was loudly applauded.

The events leading up to this moment occurred on the 22nd of January 1887 when Thomas saved the life of a man by jumping into the Bremer River. The river was in a raging flood, and the man was helping to remove goods from a store when he got sucked into a vortex on the edge of the current. Without hesitating, Livermore swam out, took the man by the collar, and brought him back to the building in safety. The current was running so strongly that nobody had expected to see either of them alive again.

If it wasn’t for Thomas’s bravery, Australia would have been deprived of lollies in the first quarter of the 20th century. That’s because the man he saved was forty-five-year-old Stephen Gillespie Melvin who lived at Sandy Gallop and had a confectionery shop on Brisbane Street. He later moved to Sydney and Annandale where he founded the ‘Melvin Son and Ackers Confectioners’ business and ‘The Crown Confectionery Company’.

But eight weeks after the rescue, Melvin was charged with perjury over a land deal case in the supreme court and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to five-and-half years gaol. He was declared insolvent. Some years later, two of his confectionery buildings in Sydney were burnt down in circumstances that attracted the interest of police.

Thomas Livermore’s own story is quite sad. He was born in Ipswich on the 25th of February 1862. His brother was William George Livermore who was the famous lemonade manufacturer in Ipswich.

Remembered on film (but not Thomas) – brother William and his lemonade, son Thomas Jnr, William Yaldwyn

Three years before he saved the man from the flood, Thomas went to the rescue of an old man who was allegedly being attacked by the Ipswich brick maker Francis Porter, but both Thomas himself ended up in court accused of assault. The case was dismissed.

In the sixteen years between 1909 and 1925, Thomas suffered eight deaths in his immediate family including his father, wife, three siblings, and three sons. In 1916 his son Charles was serving in the army when while walking home at night he was killed by a train at Bundamba. Another son Thomas Junior was killed by falling rock at the Ipswich Blackheath Colliery in 1917.

Thomas Livermore died at home at Bundamba in 1934 aged seventy-two. He’s the Ipswich hero of the 1887 floods – sadly neither of which you’ve probably ever heard of, before now.


Photo credits:
Flood waters rise in the heart of Ipswich 1887 – State Library of Queensland.
Luminaries collage – Lord Carrington (Wikipedia public domain), Lord Brassey (National Portrait Gallery), Alban Riley (City of Sydney), Sir Anthony Musgrave (South Australia State Library), Earl of Ducie (State Library of Queensland).
Remembered collage – George Livermore (Ancestry, Livermore lemonade(Ipswich City Council), Thomas Shadrick Livermore Jnr 1(Ipswich City Council), William Yaldwyn (The Queensland 22 Sep 1906)

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