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Thurlow Connections

Dedicated to the families of Sarah (Thurley) & Wolton Wigg, William, 
John & Susan (Froment), Jane (Thurley) & Thomas Cole, and their
Descendants in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere who have their origins in 
Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, England as their linkage 

William "Uncle" Thurlow

A man of many talents ...

According to the history of St Bathans:

Mr W. Thurlow was born in 1837 in Milton, Cambridgeshire, England. He came out to Victoria [Australia] in 1857 [1] and was long closely associated with goldmining. In 1861 he crossed the Tasman Sea, and made his home in Otago. For many years he was at Cambrian, where he was successful as a prospector, and also in the Vinegar Hill district. Except during a trip to England in 1872-73, Mr Thurlow was actively employed in goldmining till he took an interest in the management of the Vulcan Hotel ... in 1889 [2] . He served as a member of the school committee and held a seat on the local Domain Board and the Board of Management of the St Bathans Cottage Hospital. Mr Thurlow died on the 31st of January, 1902.

One New Zealand author has provided some anecdotal evidence of interest and writes:

'Uncle' was the soubriquet of William Thurlow, a most genial and popular Englishman who had not an atom of guile in his make-up. A rule of the hotel was never to charge members of the clergy when visiting their flocks, irrespective of their religion. It was customary for some of the St Bathans folk to keep 'Uncle' company in his long nights vigil until the coach departed for Middlemarch. In those days the coach arrived from Blacks (Ophir) at about six in the evening, twice a week, and left for Middlemarch about three in the morning. Some of the locals would play cards and 'Uncle' would take a hand as well as acting as waiter, barman and stoker of the fire. He would doze fitfully, waking up when urged to play and usually asking 'What's trumps?' It is said that when he was at church one Sunday he dozed during the sermon and startled the congregation by asking this question when he suddenly awoke.

Cambrians, a mining town in Central Otago, NZ
(courtesy The Weekly Press, September 26, 1900 and John Anderson)

Glowing tributes to William upon his death were reported locally in this Obituary and Funeral Notice in The Mount Ida Chronicle:

Quite a gloom was cast over our town and district this morning, when it became known that one of the oldest and most highly respected members of our community had during the night suddenly breathed his last - our old friend Mr William Thurlow better known as "Uncle," the popular landlord of the Vulcan Hotel. For some considerable time he had suffered from weakness of the heart, but it was not till within the last few months that any marked change in his health was noticeable. During the week however turns for the worse came, and this morning in the presence of a few of his relatives and friends he quietly passed away, his age being 65. Poor "Uncle" was known probably throughout the greater part of New Zealand as a genial good natured soul. He arrived in the colony from Victoria with a band of pioneer gold diggers in the early sixties, as a miner, and followed up the 'rushes' at Gabriels, the Dunstan, the Bannockburn and finally settled near Welshman's now known as Cambrian, where he still followed mining pursuits until the taking over in 1889 of the Vulcan Hotel, in partnership with his brother, who survives him. His reminiscences of the early days in Victoria and New Zealand, always remained green in his memory, and his many stories of adventure were recounted by him in such a realistic way that he was most agreeable in the company of stranger or friend. His popularity too was increased by his happy frank manner - even the youngest child of the town if it could lisp "Uncle," loved him.

Miners' Cottages 4 miles from Welshman's Gully : William's cottage far right. (B+W pencil drawing and colour photo courtesy John Anderson)

Other tributes:

He took an active interest in anything for the good of the district, and in offices connected with the Episcopalian Church. He never failed as an upright and conscientious fellow worker. His death has left a blank in our midst, and his name will long live in the memory of this district which universally sympathises with the numerous sorrowing relatives. (January 31, 1902)

The funeral, which was one of the largest ever seen in the district, took place this afternoon, and was attended by friends from far and near - men, women and children coming long distances. A few very intimate friends acted as pall bearers, and the Rev Mr Christian officiated at the grave, the Rev Mr Gellie, Presbyterian minister of this district, also engaging in prayer. (Sunday, 2nd February, 1902).

William became a hotelkeeper from 10 October 1888 when he and his brother, John bought the St Bathans' Vulcan from Mary Hanger, the widow of Samuel Spencer Hanger. They were the parents of David Samuel Hanger who married Julia Thurlow, John's daughter and William's niece. After William died, ownership of the hotel passed to Patrick Sexton c19 April 1902.

The first Vulcan hotel, a corrugated-iron building, was opened in 1869. By 1881 the need for a more permanent building was apparent making way for its replacement with a building made of sun dried mud bricks (adobe). The Vulcan hotel was destroyed by fire (in 1914 ?) and was replaced by a new red brick building. A second fire destroyed the hotel on the original site and the licence was then transferred c1931 to the vacant Ballarat hotel which was built of mud brick in 1882. The Ballarat hotel was renamed the Vulcan and stands 3 sections to the south of the original Vulcan. 

William Thurlow, in his Will dated 9 February 1897, bequeathed most of his estate to his younger brother John. Mary, his aged mother, and brother James, both residing in England, and his sister, Jane Cole, living in Dunedin were also beneficiaries of smaller monetary sums.


[1] I suggest that William arrived aboard the Columbian, on a voyage that commenced at the Port of Suez, bound for Sydney (arriving 18 November 1857) via Melbourne. I would further suggest that he made his way overland or by ship from England to Alexandria then to Port Suez to board the Columbian to continue his voyage via the Red Sea. The Suez canal was not an option at this time.

[2] He was actually managing the hotel from October 1888.

© Copyright 2008-2015 Ray Thurlow

A scene in the main street of St Bathans a long time ago. Top RHS is the Vulcan hotel.


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Further Reading

Other articles of interest may be found in:

HUSBAND, John c2007, Pubs o’ the South : A Collection of Paintings and Drawings of the public houses of Otago, Dunedin, Central Otago, Southland & Invercargill, Invercargill

MASON, Judy and WILSON, Heather c1989, The History of Education in the Upper Manuherikia Valley: Becks, Cambrian, Lauder Railway, St Bathans, NZ

NICOLSON-GARRETT, Gladys 1977, St Bathans, John McIndoe, Dunedin

St Bathans : An Historic Town, 1977, Dunedin

WILSON, Heather and MASON, Judy c1989, St Bathans and Cambrian 125 Years of Sport and Entertainment, Wilson, Naseby NZ.


Hospitality, NZ August 1987 p46

Pacific Way, NZ July 1990 No. 31

Otago Daily Times, June 20, 1997 pp12-13

Otago Daily Times, December 21, 2001 p17

Otago Daily Times, Weekend, November 27-28, 2004

NZ Today, September 2006 No. 18


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