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12 November, 2021

Barron River Pioneer

A SCHOOL teacher from Italy obtained one of the largest selections on the Barron River and created quite a stir when he tried to introduce experimental crops to the district.

By Maria Larkins

The largest landholder along the Barron River at Smithfield was Dr David Thomatis. He held Portion 213 in the Parish of Smithfield, County of Nares which comprised 1000 acres and was known as Caravonica Park. Thomatis grew many experimental crops including cotton, coffee and rice and much of the land was leased to local Chinese and Italian immigrants who also grew bananas and pineapples or grazed cattle. 

Dr. Thomatis and his wife, Marie Theresa, were also known for establishing and then closing schools. Their first venture was at Rockhampton from 1879 to 1880. They then established the Townsville Grammar School which they ran for several years. An advertisement in The Northern Miner on 25 October 1881 stated tuition was offered in “English, Classics, Surveying, Law, Drawing, Painting, Fancy Work, Dancing, Music, Singing, Foreign Languages etc. to girls and boys.”

Cook District 2 Mile Sketch Map Sheet No. 5 – Cairns, Herberton, Mulgrave River & c., Scale 2 Miles to an Inch, Printed and Published at the Surveyors General’s Office Brisbane, Queensland, 1890.

On 6 January 1886, The Telegraph reported that Thomatis had closed the college at Townsville:

“Dr. Thomatis has retired from his teaching, and has dissolved his grammar school. He had over seventy pupils and twenty-three boarders. He leaves here next Saturday for Cairns, to settle on his plantation.” 

He hadn’t actually retired as the couple proceeded to open the Cairns College in June that same year. A month later Mrs. Marie Theresa Thomatis died and school reportedly closed in late 1886. Thomatis was then appointed head teacher at a new State School in Edmonton. 

On 20 March 1888 he married Rachel Ellen Walls and focused his attention on the cultivation of new crops at Caravonica Park.

Portrait sketch from photograph by Lomer and Company, Brisbane. Australian Schoolmasters. (1889, March 23). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1919), p. 28

An inventive farmer, Thomatis developed a hybrid strain of high yielding cotton and decided to go overseas and promote it. He was granted three months leave from his position as alderman on the Barron Shire Council and left with his family in March 1909. 

He then placed a very surprising advertisement in the local newspaper advising that he had sold his holding at Smithfield to Baron Curt von Grunan, Baron von Werner von Grunan and Dr. Mareus in April 1909 at Berlin. In August Barron Shire Council received a letter from Thomatis in which he tended his resignation and stated he was not returning to Australia. 

The German owners don’t appear to have held on to Caravonica Park for long, as it was advertised for sale in July 1913. Thomatis and his family reportedly died overseas from the Spanish Flu in 1919. Sources: TROVE Newspapers, Queensland Government Historical Cadastral Map Series; Isabella State School History, from https://isabellass.eq.edu.au/our-school/history.


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