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THOM, ALEXANDER, army officer, surgeon, mill owner, jp, judge, and politician; b. 26 Oct. 1775 in Scotland, probably in Aberdeen, son of Alexander Thom, farmer; m. first 5 Dec. 1811 Harriet E. Smythe (d. 1815) in Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada, and they had children; m. secondly Eliza Montague (d. 1820); m. thirdly Betsy Smythe, and they had a son and two daughters; d. 26 Sept. 1845 in Perth, Upper Canada.

Alexander Thom graduated from King’s College, Aberdeen, with an ma in 1791. On 25 Sept. 1795 he joined the 88th Foot as regimental mate, a post he assumed in the 35th Foot a year later. He became an assistant surgeon on 9 March 1797 and a surgeon on 30 Aug. 1799. In May 1803 he joined the 41st Foot, then stationed in Lower Canada, and served with it until he became a staff surgeon on 29 July 1813. His status is indicated by the fact that, in October 1812, he was a member of the official funeral cortège for Sir Isaac Brock* at Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Thom was one of those taken when the Americans captured Fort George in May 1813, and he remained in captivity until August. At that time he received permission from the Reverend John Strachan* to use his church at York (Toronto) for a hospital.

Towards the end of the war, the British government sought means to protect the Canadas’ lines of communication against future invasion from the south. The St Lawrence River was patently unsafe, but Montreal and Kingston could be joined by a route along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers if this route could be settled. Thus, a scheme to promote such settlement by reliable British subjects, preferably with military experience, was born [see Sir Francis Cockburn*]. The first community was to be at Perth, and, as it was to be under the protection of the army during its formative years, the British government agreed to provide a surgeon for the settlers. Thom was recommended for this position on 15 Aug. 1815. That December he was apparently responsible for presenting to the provincial government a memorial on behalf of the first group of Scots settlers, who were reluctant to proceed to the Perth settlement because they understood that the land and climate there were unsatisfactory. By July 1816 he was at Perth on half pay. Retiring from this half-pay position on 15 Feb. 1817, he continued as the settlement’s official doctor until military supervision ended in 1822.

Thom lived the remainder of his life at Perth, where he was a force in assuring the survival and growth of the town. In the early years his medical activities were often arduous; in September 1816, when the population was about 1,600, he requested additional medical men and urged that a hospital be built. At about this time he began to establish a business career that soon preoccupied him. He built a sawmill on the Tay River, which produced its first boards in July 1817, and soon after he built a grist-mill; in the opinion of William Bell*, the pioneer Presbyterian minister in Perth, Thom became so involved in these projects that he sometimes neglected his medical duties. In 1819 he was granted land in Perth and in the townships of Bathurst, Drummond, Sherbrooke, and Elmsley. Two years later he joined with other local citizens in petitioning for a market and fair. A magistrate from 1816, he was a member of the court of inquiry appointed by the military superintendent of the settlement, Cockburn, in 1819 that discovered the peculation, of Joseph Daverne, the secretary-storekeeper for the Perth settlement. In 1824, with other magistrates, he faced the difficult task of controlling the “Bally-ghiblin” riots in Ramsay Township [see James FitzGibbon*].

As Perth grew, Thom’s influence lessened. A tory, he withdrew from the general election of 1824 in favour of fellow tory William Morris* but lost to him in 1834. Thom was elected in the Lanark by-election of February 1836 only to lose to Malcolm Cameron* and John Ambrose Hume Powell in July. According to William Bell, Thom was a decent man and the only doctor in Perth capable of rising above a concern for financial gain during the cholera epidemic of 1832. When the other medical men declined to form a board of health, Thom announced that he would serve alone, if necessary. The following year he fought a duel with Alexander McMillan “to decide an affair of honor.” Shots were exchanged and, though Thom was slightly wounded, “the matter terminated amicably.” Appointed a district court judge in 1835, he died in Perth ten years later.

Charles G. Roland

AO, Land record index; MS 552 (transcript). National Arch. (Washington), RG 98, 685. PAC, RG 5, A1: 13388–90; RG 8, I (C ser.), 291: 30; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 427, 537. Univ. of Aberdeen Library, ms and Arch. Sect. (Aberdeen, Scot.), Kings College and Univ., record of graduates, 30 March 1791. [L. W. V.] ith, Young Mr Smith in Upper Canada, ed. M. L. Smith (Toronto, 1980). John Strachan, John Strachan: documents and opinions; a selection, ed. J. L. H. Henderson (Toronto and Montreal, 1969), 45. Canadian Correspondent (York [Toronto]), 26 Jan. 1833. Globe, 14 Oct. 1845. Upper Canada Gazette, 8 Dec. 1821. Death notices of Ont. (Reid), 13, 26, 179. A dictionary of Scottish emigrants to Canada before confederation, comp. Donald Whyte (Toronto, 1986), 413. William Johnston, Roll of commissioned officers in the medical service of the British army . . . (Aberdeen, 1917). Legislators and legislatures of Ont. (Forman), 1: 77. Canniff, Medical profession in U.C., 650. Alexander Haydon, Pioneer sketches in the district of Bathurst (Toronto, 1925), 37–38, 48, 51, 147–48. J. S. McGill, A pioneer history of the county of Lanark (Toronto, 1968), 58. Isabel [Murphy] Skelton, A man austere: William Bell, parson and pioneer (Toronto, 1947), 113, 120, 124, 138–40, 263, 286.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Charles G. Roland, “THOM, ALEXANDER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/thom_alexander_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/thom_alexander_7E.html
Author of Article: Charles G. Roland
Title of Article: THOM, ALEXANDER
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: August 23, 2014