William Tonkin drowned River Torrens 1890

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1820 to 1890
Location: Adelaide, South Australia, Australiamap
Surname/tag: Tonkin
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Research page of the Tonkin Name Study

Who is the William Tonkin that drowned in the River Torrens on 15 Feb 1890?

Earliest known information is that he married Margaret Stephens in Kooringa, South Australia on 4 May 1850, he was 29 years old. No father listed, marriage registration stated he is single, but it also states that Mary Stephens was single, and she was a widow with 3 children.
Genealogy SA Marriage Registrations Database: TONKIN William age 29, groom marital status S, STEPHENS Margaret age 28, bride marital status S, Marriage Place Church Kooringa, district The Murray/Burra, book/page 14/275

According to his record of marriage William Tonkin was born c1821

The birth of the first child of William and Margaret, Sarah, was registered in The Murray/Burra district in 1851, although birth residence was not recorded it would likely be Kooringa or Burra. Their second child Mary Jane was born in Kensington, a suburb of Adelaide, in 1853. By 1856 they were back in Kooringa where 7 children were all born in The Murray/Burra district. What brought William and Margaret to the city in 1853? or was it just Margaret? It would be a days journey if not longer in those days, and they had a small child as well. If the following advertisement was placed by this William Tonkin, they were only in the city a short time.

The Adelaide Observer 5 Aug 1854 under the title "Lost Cattle and Horses" was placed by Wm Tonkin of Burra Mine.

Adelaide Observer 5 Aug 1854

The reference in the advertisement to a business in Kensington is noted, surely that is this William Tonkin then! more research required into the business of Messrs Nicholson & Co, could be a family connection?

Kooringa (now known as Burra South) in South Australia began as the company town of Kooringa, surveyed and built for the South Australian Mining Association. Copper was discovered in the area in 1845 and the Burra Burra Copper Mine formed in 1848. For 15 years the mine supplied 89 per cent of South Australia's and 5 per cent of the world's copper.

The family moved from Kooringa to Wallaroo Mines sometime between 1865 (when son Nicholas was born in Kooringa) and 1871 (when daughter Sarah married Richard Rogers at the residence of her father). The South Australian Electoral Roll 1874 has the entry for William Tonkin, mine labourer, residence Wallaroo Mines.

It is well documented in the newspapers of the day, that William Tonkin died age 68 on 15 Feb 1890, drowned in the Torrens Lake in Adelaide (City). A couple of reports included, no information as to where he was born is given, the Kadina and Wallaroo Times stated that he was formerly a resident of Wallaroo Mines.

"FOUND DROWNED IN THE TORRENS." Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904) 22 February 1890: 35. Web. 26 Aug 2021 <>.

"FOUND DEAD IN THE TORRENS." The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) 19 February 1890: 7. Web. 26 Aug 2021 <>.

"Kadina & Wallaroo Times" The Kadina and Wallaroo Times (SA : 1888 - 1954) 19 February 1890: 2. Web. 26 Aug 2021 <>.

No personal notice of death at the time, but there is a notice of funeral in the Express and Telegraph on both the 18th and 19th Feb 1890

Express and Telegraph 18 Feb 1890

According to his record of death William Tonkin was born c1822

So, where was William from?

Born c1821 he was not born in South Australia, so he must have emigrated here sometime before 1850, which would make him an early colonist.
Looking at passenger lists to South Australia before 1850, there is only 1 William Tonkin not accounted for on the Tonkin Migrants to South Australia research page, and that is on the Aboukir arriving at Port Adelaide on 4 Sep 1847, the only problem is that was William Tonkin with wife and child.
Although his marriage to Margaret Stephens in 1850 states he is single, it also states that she was single, and that was incorrect, so the information that he was single could be incorrect, but there is no record of a death for a female Tonkin in South Australia between 1847 and 1850.

The Cornwall Online Parish Clerks have 9 possible baptisms between 1820 and 1823 (not including William Tonkin's with middle name's mentioned, as at no time has a middle name been recorded for William) :

There are 3 baptisms in Devon:

  • 1821 Coryton, William Tonkin son of William and Jane
  • 1822 Heavitree, William Tonkin son of George and Mary
  • 1823 Whitchurch, William Tonkin son of Richard and Jane

Any still living in England in the 1851 census can be eliminated, as William was already in South Australia by then. Hopefully, by eliminating some, it will lead to the family of this William Tonkin!

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