Biography for Alexander Thom
41st regiment of Foot (1775-1845)
Alexander Thom, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on October 26, 1775, served in the War of 1812 with the 41st Regiment of Foot, of the British regular army. Following the war, he remained in Upper Canada, in the newly-created Perth Military Settlement, to which he made a substantial contribution. To quote one biographer:
“Alexander Thom was a force in assuring the survival and growth of the town (of Perth).”
In 1795, after graduating from Aberdeens Kings College, farmer son Alexander joined the British army, in the 88th Connaught Rangers Regiment, later working up to Assistant Surgeon with the 35th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot. His military postings were to campaigns in Holland (1799), Minorca, Malta and Egypt (1800-1802). On May 17, 1803, Alexander was appointed Surgeon to the 41st Regiment on Foot, and left with his regiment for Canada, where he served through the 1812-15 hostilities.
Because the participation of Alexander in the 1812 war has been documented in detail in several biographies, and space is limited in the Graveside Marker Program, the following is a summary of his war record. (For more detail, see listed sources).
The 41st Regiment of Foot served in Lower and Upper Canada, and, from 1806, at Fort George, where he was stationed at the outbreak of war, as principle medical officer in the Right Division in the Niagara Peninsula, of Brigadier-General Vincent. In May 1813, Fort George fell to the Americans, and Thom spent the next four months to August as a prisoner of war. On his liberation, he was appointed medical officer in York, treating casualties from the Niagara campaign, where he remained until the end of the war. In several situations during this period, Alexander stood out as a defender of the needy and disadvantaged: in one case, on behalf of wounded American prisoners; in another, in pressing obstinate higher authorities for the use of a local church for the care of wounded allied soldiers.
Following the war, when the British Government decided to open a new line of military settlements in the Rideau area, Alexander was recommended for the position of medical officer to the Perth settlement, in August 1815. He was one of four senior officers designated to provide superintendence of the new depot to be established at present-day Perth. Later that year, his sense of community came to the fore when he represented recently arrived Scottish immigrants in a petition seeking to change their settlement location to the Bay of Quinte area (petition refused).
In 1816, Alexander moved to Perth on half pay, with other demobilized officers, who would provide security and leadership for the new community and, as it happened, incidentally the core of its commerce. As a retired officer, Alexander received land grants, including a one acre lot in the settlement and several hundred rural acres, which he would develop into successful businesses.
During the early settlement years, Dr. Thom was the primary source of medical care to the settlement. However, he also noted the need, and opportunity, for industrial services in the new area. In 1817, he built the first sawmill and grist mill of the area, and a dam to power them, on the Tay River beside centre Perth, which he ran until 1832. In later years, these grew into an industrial complex, comprising three more mills; in the 1890s, the dam became the source of hydro power for newly electrified Perth, and remains today as a tourist attraction.
Building on this success, Alexander moved 40 km upstream on the River, in 1821, into uncharted country, to a second property received as a veteran land grant. Here he built another grist mill and dam, founding Bolingbroke, a hamlet in Tay Valley Township. Alexander ran this until the early 1840s. A dam on the site now provides the major water reservoir for the Rideau Canal system in eastern Ontario.
Perhaps, what eventually became his most important community input was the development of a Drummond Township property, on the south west corner of the military settlement. In the 1820s, Alexander began the residential development of this property, and in 1850, it was incorporated into the Town of Perth, to constitute almost one quarter of the modern town. Alexander named the development Caroline (aka Carolina) Village, after a daughter. Following his 1845 death, his children carried the development further, and the name Caroline/Carolina and the family name were written into Perth history.
Dr. Thom remained the official settlement army doctor until 1822, when military rule ceased, but his impact on the community was even wider than medical and business. He was at various times a Perth Commissioner for the Peace, magistrate, district court judge, Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions, one-time politician, and a leader in a variety of community causes, including promoting medical facilities. Alexander took an interest in establishing education facilities in Perth; in 1818, he helped the new Roman Catholic teacher develop a Catholic school; in 1822, he was appointed to the first Education Board for the settlement. In 1823, he was one of the magistrates called to a special session at the courthouse to organise the licensing of public houses. In 1824, he was one of three magistrates appointed to accompany an armed force to quell a nearby riot (known as the Ballygibblins). In 1836, he held a seat for three months in the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly (losing it in a subsequent election). In the early 1840s, Alexander, an Anglican, donated land from his property adjoining Perth for the construction of the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
In any history of the people who have been most influential in the development of Perth, Dr. Alexander Thom would invariably be listed with the most important few.
Alexander Thom and his wife, Eliza established a large family that became influential in their own right — son, Alexander Jr. and four daughters, Eliza, Caroline, Catherine and Harriet. Alexander Jr. (who died young) and Caroline carried on the work developing Caroline Village and area properties after his death. The four daughters all moved, and provided major contributions, to the burgeoning town of Toronto, with husbands Charles Gamsby (civil engineer), James Boulton (first lawyer in Perth, then lawyer in York), Larratt Smith (lawyer, Senator, astronomer), and Godfrey Spragge (lawyer & jurist).
Alexander died in Perth September 26, 1845, and was buried in the Old Burying Ground, on Craig Street in Perth.
This application is supported by:
- Perth Historical Society, Perth, Ontario, Canada (a not-for-profit community association documenting the history of the Town of Perth and local municipalities)
- Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 244, Perth, Ontario, Canada
- The Regimental Medical System: A Study of the Surgeons of the 41st Regiment of Foot during the War of 1812, by Gareth Newfield
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Universities of Toronto and Laval
- The Mills of the Tay in Eastern Ontario, by David Taylor
- A Pioneer History of the County of Lanark, by Jean S. McGill
Veteran SummaryAlexander Thom
Staff Surgeon, 41st Regiment of Foot
Place of Birth
Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom
Place of Death
Perth, ON, CAN
Died on: 26 SEP 1845
Reason: Old Age
Location of Grave
Old Burying Ground, Craig St.
Perth, ON, CAN
Latitude: 44.899014N Longitude: -76.240721