PALMER, Thomas Fyshe (1747-1802)


PALMER, Thomas Fyshe (1747-1802)
political reformer
was born at Ickwell, Bedford, England, in July 1747. He was the son of Henry Fyshe who assumed the additional name of Palmer on marrying Elizabeth Palmer of Nazeing Park, Essex. The son was educated at Ely, and at Eton, entered Queen's College, Cambridge, in April 1765, and graduated B.A. 1769, M.A. 1772, B.D. 1781. He was a fellow of Queen's College and for a period a curate in Surrey. In 1781 he was apparently in Bedfordshire as he dined with Dr Johnson in June of that year. Johnson and Boswell were then on a visit to Squire Dilly at Southill. About 1783 Palmer became a Unitarian and went to Scotland. He formed Unitarian societies at Dundee and Edinburgh, and taught occasionally at schools without pay. He had some private means apart from his fellowship. In 1793, as a Unitarian minister at Dundee, he was a member of a society called the "Friends of Liberty", and was accused of having composed and printed a manuscript "of wicked and seditious import" in the form of an address to their friends and fellow citizens. He was tried at Perth on 12 September 1793, found guilty, and sentenced to seven years transportation. He sailed on the Surprize with Thomas Muir (q.v.), and though he had paid for a cabin travelled under the most uncomfortable and trying conditions. (A Narrative of the Sufferings of T. F. Palmer and W. Skirving, 1797.) To add to his troubles he was accused of fomenting a mutiny, and was received with much suspicion by Lieut.-governor Grose (q.v.) when the ship arrived in October 1794.
Palmer resolved to make the best of the conditions in Sydney. He was not a convict, though confined to Australia, and he busied himself with studying the fauna and flora of the country and working his land. He had two friends named Ellis and Boston who had come with him to Australia. With Ellis he built a small vessel to trade with Norfolk Island, which was profitable until the ship was lost, and the same thing happened to a second vessel. His sentence expired in September 1800, and in January 1801 he sailed with his two friends in a vessel of 250 tons, El Plumier, a Spanish prize. Going first to New Zealand to load timber for Cape Colony, they stayed for some months, changed their plans and went to Fiji. They then went to Guam in the Ladrone group and were detained by the Spanish governor as prisoners of war. There Palmer contracted dysentery and died on 2 June 1802.
Palmer was a man of wide education and amiable character, who had the misfortune to become interested in parliamentary reform at a time when the public mind was inflamed by its fear of the French revolution. The Scottish judges unfortunately were as prejudiced as the general body of people, and Muir, Palmer and their associates, who were striving for reforms, most of which were granted a few years later, earned the name of the "Scottish Martyrs". Their monument is on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, and Palmer's name is second on the list.
The Eton College Register, 1753-90; Postscript by G. Dyer to G. Thompson's Slavery and Famine, Punishments for Sedition; An Account of the Trial of Thomas Fyshe Palmer; Historical Records of New South Wales, vol. II, pp. 821-86; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vol. I; J. A. Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia; M. Masson, The Scottish Historical Review, 1916.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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