Rediscovering Ginninderra: A database:
Born: c. 1830; Died: 1886; Married: 1. Mary Hegarty; 2. Charlotte Chidley
Thomas Wells is primarily known as Ginninderra’s first convicted homicide.
He appears to have had family connections in Nelanglo, but lived most of his working life in Ginninderra in the Tea Gardens district, where he farmed and also operated a bullock team. He married Mary Hegarty in Gulgong in 1850. They had at least one child together.
According to Samuel Shumack, Wells - in partnership with Thomas Gribble - was commonly employed throughout the district in reaping and hay-stacking. The men harvested his father’s wheat crops of 1862-63. But haystacking and reaping were not the only activities in which Wells was partnered with Gribble; they also ran a teamsering business, carting wool to Sydney in the early 1860s. On one occasion they were held up by Ben Hall and his gang on the Goulburn Road.
Shumack describes a terrible incident in which Wells murdered Samuel Marley:
In 1858 Thomas Wells was a teamster in partnership with Thomas Gribble and lived on ‘The Grant’ at Ginninderra. His wife had a liking for drink, and this weakness was more pronounced when her husband was absent from home with the team. One day during his absence some loose characters called and proceeded to make merry. Samuel Morley (sic) heard about the party and went to the house and persuaded the characters to leave. He then had a couple of nips with Mrs Wells, and was well under the influence when Wells returned and attacked them with an axe. Morley was killed outright, and Judy Webb inserted thirty stitches in the wounds received by Mrs Wells. Wells was arrested and subsequently convicted on a charge of manslaughter. The testimony of his wife saved him from a more serious charge and he received a light sentence. Upon his release he returned to Ginninderra and was employed by William Davis.
The incident took place at Crinigan's Hut (Stone Hut). There are a few errors in Shumack’s account (e.g. the weapon was a length of timber, not an axe, and his dating is awry), but it is correct in its main elements. Wells spent only three months in Goulburn gaol for his crime. Julia Webb (known as ‘Judy the Great’) ran a sly grog shop and - as can be seen from Shumack’s account - she was highly skilled in basic medical procedures and did well to save Mary’s life. Nevertheless, Mary Wells only lived a few more years. She died in 1863.
In 1865 Wells married Charlotte Chidley. His second wife died in 1884 and is buried in the old St Paul’s Burial Ground. Wells died himself two years later.
- Barrow, G., Canberra’s Historic Houses: Dwellings and Ruins of the 19th Century, Hackett, 1998
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992
- Purchase, S. (ed.), Canberra’s Early Hotels: a Pint-sized History, Canberra, 1999
- Shumack, S. An Autobiography, or, Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers (ed. J. E. and S. Shumack), Canberra, 1967
- Various editions of the Queanbeyan Age and Goulburn Evening Penny Post