Thomas Pierson

Thomas Pierson brought his wife, Frances and his son Mason to Melbourne from New York in 1852. His remarkable diary holds his ticket along with newspaper clippings, poems and quotations that he collected.

Pierson brought a distinctly American perspective, strongest in his dislike for the English and some of their cruder manners:

I do most solemnly aver that so far as our company is concerned there is not one Englishman or Woman ever satisfied unless they can always be served first - a plate or sauce disch or any article eatable once in their hands, which always happens to be first, is always emptied before it leaves them…

- Thomas Pierson

Pierson, T 1853 Diaries (2 volumes) 30 September 1852 - 12 April 1864. From the State Library of Victoria's Manuscript Collection. MS 11646

Like many new arrivals to the colony, Pierson was not impressed by Melbourne and made specific comment on the number of deaths and funerals that he had witnessed. All three family members had suffered from dysentery and Pierson remarked: 'I think Australia i.e. the parts I have seen the most god forsaken accursed country I could conceive off…'

Pierson’s first venture with his son was to go to the diggings as a storekeeper.  He put together a shipment of boots, sugar, coffee, tea and flour. While the cost of the horse and cart was close to £100, high demand on the goldfields meant they were able to earn another £100 in profit. Pierson’s comments on the speech of his customers gives us an insight into the sounds of life on the diggings:

The awful swearing of the colonists excede the lowest dregs of Yankeys, cant begin to compare with them- at all hours of the night you will hear men & women threatening in this way viz by the Holy Ghost I will rip the Bloody Guts out of you and all their swearing begins with Bloody– and sounds most sickening…

- Thomas Pierson

Pierson, T 1853 Diaries (2 volumes) 30 September 1852 - 12 April 1864. From the State Library of Victoria's Manuscript Collection. MS 11646

Their business partner failed to return with new supplies, which meant the Piersons had to go back to Melbourne to seek employment and save money for a new expedition. The family went back and forth between Ballarat and Melbourne for the next few years.

Like the miners, storekeepers were also frustrated by the attempts to collect revenue and Governor Hotham’s increased attention on licenses. Pierson made his view on the events of the Eureka Stockade clear, calling the police and administration: 'Robbers of the industrious portion of the community […] proud, lazy, ignorant, tyrannical…'

The Piersons were miners and storekeepers in Ballarat but they always struggled to make enough money. Thomas and Mason eventually established themselves in stationery and bookbinding but Frances' health got steadily worse. In Thomas' diary, descriptions of trips to the theatre and life on the diggings become less frequent. Her death in 1865 marks the end of his account.

Original boarding pass for an 1852 trip from New York to Melbourne.
Diary entry by Thomas Pierson describing conditions in Melbourne during the gold boom.
Thomas Pierson's diary provides a first-hand account of events in the lead-up to the Eureka Stockade.
Newspaper advertisement for passage on a clipper to Manila.