Bad money in wool and boots: Bankruptcy records in the Tasmanian Names Index

We have added a new category to the Tasmanian Names Index!

Go to Record Type and select Bankruptcy to find the records of over 1600 people who declared either bankruptcy or insolvency between 1821 and 1928.

These include the files of two notable Tasmanians whose fortunes fell on hard times – Thomas Wells and Sylvanus Blundstone.

All’s well that ends Wells? 

Thomas Wells was a convict. He was transported in 1816 for embezzling money while working as a clerk for a surveyor. Ironically, this crime earned him a promotion – as a convict he worked as a clerk for Governor Sorell! Literate convicts had a definite advantage in the skill-poor colony. Wells’ other claim to fame is as the writer of Tasmania’s first literary pamphlet, about the bushranger Michael Howe.

In Van Diemen’s Land Wells was given a Conditional Pardon almost immediately, and was able to build up landholdings through land grants and purchases. He may even have received a bit of special treatment, getting government contracts for the supply of meat.

Luck caught up with Wells in 1829. He made some bad wool speculations, and found himself in debtor’s prison, unable to pay his debts. His bankruptcy papers include a letter to his son, advising him to defend their home (Allanvale, at Macquarie Plains) against unlawful seizures. Two copies of this letter are included in the file – one carefully and calmly transcribed, the other hastily drafted on scraps of paper, full of crossings-out.

TAHO: AE764-1-347

Somehow, Wells did manage to hold onto the house at Allanvale until after he was released from prison. Wells’ wife and eleven children must have been quite relieved that they could stay at home. The family included twins born October 1830, somehow fathered while Wells was in prison!

Wells was able to maintain his family and partially recover his fortunes through constant pleas to the Governor, and by working as an accountant while in prison.

Colonist and Van Diemen’s Land Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Tuesday 18 June 1833, page 4

Wells’ death did not end the troubles for his family. Despite the newspaper’s suggestions that the government help support the family, the eldest son Samuel Pullen Wells resorted to sheep stealing. He was sentenced to ‘life’ at Port Arthur in 1834 (but pardoned in 1837).

  • See: P. R. Eldershaw, ‘Wells, Thomas (1782–1833)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 October 2017.

Boots and all

In 1901, Sylvanus Blundstone had to declare bankruptcy for his father’s iconic boot company John Blundstone & Son after failing to keep up with mortgage payments and debts totalling £18,902. This would be about $2.79 million today!

Sylvanus was again in financial trouble in 1909. Trading under the name Blundstone and Company, he had accumulated another £109 of debt to one creditor (or $14,878), and was bankrupt again.

He did not have much time to recover his fortunes after that. Sylvanus Blundstone died in 1915, aged 57.

Examiner, Saturday 9 January 1915, page 8

The family lost the company, but the Blundstone boot retains their name to this day.


  • See: David Young, ‘Blundstone, John (1831–1895)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 13 October 2017.
  • Modern monetary equivalents have been calculated using the Reserve Bank of Australia’s pre-decimal inflation calculator
  • The header image for this post is a photo taken when Bank of Van Diemen’s Land closed its doors 1891, Monday 3 August. The bank failed after a financial collapse in the mining industry, and was one of several banks to fail around Australia in the depression of the early 1890s.

Author: Jess Walters

Jessica is a Librarian for the State Library and Tasmanian Archives.

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