Henry James Symes (Hyde)

Henry James Symes (Hyde)

Last Name


Given Name:


Middle Name:


Alternative Name:

Henry Hyde, Sigma

Arrival in Queensland


Date of Birth

18 September 1831

Place of Birth

Cheltenham, England

Date of Death

2 February 1916


Toowoomba and Drayton Cemetery

Place of residence in Queensland

Leyburn, Toowoomba, Crow’s Nest, Chinchilla


Sarah Thompson

Date of Marriage

4 May 1856

Place Married

Drayton, Queensland


Sarah Maria (b. 25.2.1857 d. 1898), Alfred Henry (b. 1858 d. 1931), Arthur James (b. 1861 d. 1946), Louisa (b. 1862 d. 1930, Thompson (b. 1864 d. 1866), Harry Hyde (b. 1866 d. 1900), John Hyde (b. 1867 d. 1888), Thompson Stewart (b. 1870 d. 1855), Percival Hyde (b. 1872 d. 1957), Mary Maud (b. 1875 d. 1933), Leonard Hyde (b. 1877 d. 1938), Jessie Blanche (b. 8.3.1879 d. 1961)

Pound Keeper
Mail Carrier

Henry James Symes, Journalist, Writer, Mail Carrier and Drover, was born in London on 18 September 1831. He was baptised as James Henry Hyde but changed his name to Symes upon arriving in Australia. It is not certain when Henry came to Australia, but according to his Queensland Times obituary he came to Queensland droving cattle in 1852. He married Sarah Dicken Thompson at Drayton on 4 May 1856. Symes died 2 February 1916 and is buried in the Toowoomba and Drayton Cemetery.

Information for this biography was submitted by Denis Peel, great-grandson of Henry Symes, also known as Sigma.

The identity of Sigma is quite easily found. My great-grandfather was known as Henry James Symes and his obituaries explain that his pen name was Sigma, but that is only the tip of an iceberg that doesn’t give way easily. The following account is a summary of ongoing family research that is attempting to answer the question 'Who was Sigma'.

Family Background

Sigma was born in London and christened in the Church of England at St Leonard’s, Shoreditch by his parent’s John Hyde and Sarah Marmoy on 28 September 1831. His name was James Henry Hyde.

At that time or soon after, John and Sarah Hyde became members of the Catholic apostolic faith who were referred to as Irvingites. There was a lot of experimenting with new forms of Christianity and John and Sarah Hyde turned away from the apostolic Catholics and converted to Mormonism. Their oldest son Sigma may not have converted to Mormonism but his siblings, probably four or five brothers and five sisters did. If Sigma had been a Mormon, it was not unusual for former Mormons to be reluctant to expose this facet of their past. Other siblings of Symes travelled to America, the first of which was John Hyde Jr and there are descendants of his youngest brother Joseph Edward Hyde still living as Mormons in Utah.

According to written reminiscences of Sigma’s granddaughter Ann Dicken (Nancy) Peel, 'His father was very strict and did not believe in the theatre or anything like that. Grandfather, and one of his brothers who later migrated to America, used to slip out and go to the theatre at night but when they came back, Father was waiting for them and trouble started'.

According to Nancy Peel, Sigma was confident, sophisticated and outspoken, stating that he 'was a man of ideals and all through his life kept them no matter what it cost'.

Arrival in Australia

Nancy Peel believed that:

'Great-grandfather Hyde (John Snr) owned a fleet of ships that went to various countries. Although Grandfather (Sigma) then was studying for law at nineteen years of age, he decided that he would like to go to sea and hid away in the ship until it left England. One of his father’s ships. After being away a few months it returned home with grandfather and his father was so angry that he said if he loved the sea so much he would apprentice him to his father’s ship. The ship sailed for Australia and when it arrived in Melbourne, Grandfather Symes deserted and went to the goldfields at Ballarat, and then decided to go to Queensland. In the meantime, so his father would not find him, he changed his name to Symes, the name of his father’s partner'. Sigma’s father John Hyde (Snr) was a law clerk and Nancy Peel believed that Symes was his business partner, but this can't be substantiated.

This account is hard to verify, but it may be proved sometime in the future. A search of arrivals into Melbourne in 1850 doesn’t show Henry Hyde which is not surprising if he had 'jumped ship. It does show a Henry James Hyde arriving aboard the Marion in 1847 but he was a convict who was sentenced at The Old Bailey to seven year’s imprisonment on 17 September 1846 for forgery.

To further complicate the question of Sigma’s arrival in Australia, his obituary in The Queenslander states 'Arriving at Sydney in the year 1850 Mr Symes went up country to the gold diggings of the time'.

Another descendant of Henry James Hyde, Judith Barltrop has an account that agrees with his arriving in Sydney:

'John Hyde Sr was never a ship owner!

John Hyde Sr dearly wanted to become a lawyer or attorney and I believe he began his studies for such. However he married young, and in haste, so his ambition was never achieved. He worked in a lawyer’s office and according to the 1881 Census he was a Law Bill Clerk. But it seemed what he was not able to achieve his son would. James had different ideas though. He could have worked in a lawyer’s office for a short time to please his father but quickly decided that was not for him. At the age of 17 he signed on with a merchant ship as a ‘barefoot seaman’ and worked as such for three years. Then he left the ship in Sydney in order to see more of this country.

This was about 1850 before gold was discovered. After the gold discovery he worked for a few months on the fields near Bathurst at Summerhill and Sofala. Disgusted with the life there he then went to Wilbertree as a stockman or such. I think Nancy Peel had her wires crossed for much of the information attributed to her research is not correct. A great-grandson of HJ told me that on arrival in Sydney he ‘trod the boards’ for a while before going to the goldfields. He was always interested in the theatre so this would have appealed to him'.

How would Henry James Hyde have changed his name? Exasperatingly, for a researcher now, it was a very simple thing to do. He would have started calling himself Henry James Symes and because, at this time, documentation was a rare thing in Australia, Symes became his new name.

Early Days in Queensland

According to his Queensland Times obituary Henry Symes came to Queensland droving cattle in 1852. He married Sarah Dicken Thompson at Drayton on 4 May 1856 and gave his profession as Mariner. Drayton was 'then the capital of the Downs. Toowoomba was not born. It was The Swamp'.

Henry Symes (Church of England) married Sarah Dicken Thompson (Presbyterian) on 4 May 1856 at the Parsonage, Drayton. They gave their ages as 23 and 21, whereas by the other records they seem to have been 25 and 18. Sigma also kept things simple by naming his father as John Symes who he said was an attorney (in the 1851 UK census he is a law clerk).

Sarah is listed as a domestic servant in the immigration record and as a servant on the marriage extract. Together Sarah and Henry had twelve children. The eldest child born on 25 Feb 1857 was Sarah Maria Symes who married John McKay in 1887 and is buried with her parents, who she pre-deceased, in Toowoomba and Drayton Cemetery.

The youngest child was my grandmother Jessie Blanche Symes, born on 8 March 1879. The 12 births span almost 22 years.

Sarah Dicken Symes died of heart disease on 14 July 1900 at the family home in Hume Street, Toowoomba. Symes published a poem in memory of his wife. See the Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser article titled 'In Tribute'.

Henry James Symes - Mail Carrier

Henry delivered the mail between Toowoomba and Callandoon (Goondiwindi) from approximately 1857 to 1868. He was famously held up by bushrangers Allwood and Irwin in 1864. They were later captured by police and tried, with Henry Symes testifying. Both were found guilty with Irwin (alias Murray) being sentenced to ten years hard labour, the first in irons, and Allwood to seven years hard labour on the roads.

Sigma’s account of this incident became his “epic” poem published in The Toowoomba Chronicle as 'The Mailman’s Adventure or The Robbers’ Gap' in three parts over three Saturday editions in July and August 1892.

Sigma the Journalist and his Association with William Henry Groom

William Henry Groom (1833 – 1901) arrived in Drayton around the same time as Sigma and set himself up as a storekeeper and auctioneer. In 1861, he became Toowoomba’s first mayor. In 1862, he was elected for the seat of Drayton and Toowoomba in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. By 1876 he was the sole proprietor of the Toowoomba Chronicle.

Henry Symes and William Groom must have had very similar political views as they had a long association. Henry Symes was 'one of the first secretaries to the late Hon W H Groom and the progressive liberal movement of the day, in the interest of the farming section of the downs. Mr Symes was a power in the political world of the time. As a journalist he was a member of the staff of the Toowoomba Chronicle for some time' (Obituary, Queensland Times 4 Feb 1916).

Groom’s political opinions have been termed “agrarian radicalism”. “… he claimed that advance on the Downs meant replacement of large pastoral estates by the settlement of a contented yeomanry. He advocated free selection …” (Australian Dictionary of Biography, Groom, William Henry by DB Waterson).

Henry Symes must have been of a similar mind as, after serving for sixteen years as Secretary of the Drayton and Toowoomba Agricultural and Horticultural Society, he resigned in protest at its amalgamation with the Royal Agricultural Society 'which he deemed the "squatters" show' (Obituary Toowoomba Chronicle).

Groom was the leader of the Darling Downs “bunch” but “it had little effect on colonial policy and was never a cohesive body … and the rise of Labor, coupled with the Griffith-McIlwraith coalition which he never accepted, alienated him from major political influence” (Australian Dictionary of Biography). He must have been very happy to publish Sigma’s attack on “the Griffilwraith”.

In 1901 Groom was elected as the first Federal member for Darling Downs, being the only transported convict to ever be elected to the Australian parliament.

The Honourable W H Groom died in Melbourne on 8 August 1901 and never got to sit in the Australian parliament. Symes published a poetic tribute to Groom, 'A Monody in Memory of William Henry Groom' in the Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser, 24 August 1901, p. 3).

Other Written Records

While working on the Toowoomba Chronicle Henry Symes presumably would have reported on many events and issues. It was not the practice of newspapers of the times to credit authorship of articles. The only writing that is attributed to Sigma is in the form of his poems.

Henry Symes wrote idealistically in poems published in the Toowoomba Chronicle such as 'Self - Control' (10 December 1898) and “Yes” and “No” (both 24 December 1898). He wrote lyrically in 'A Song of Toowoomba' (3 April 1897) and 'The Roses of Toowoomba' (11 October 1897), and empathetically in 'Verses Suggested by the Latest Suicide in Toowoomba' (26 November 1898).

He showed support for Queensland’s involvement in the Boer War in support of the British cause in 'A Patriotic Song'. His Queensland Times obituary stated 'Mr Symes was a Briton to the backbone'.

Henry Symes lost his sight for a long period and wrote about it in 'Blindness' (13 September 1890). He also was forward thinking with 'Rhymes for the Times' (24 May 1893) and 'Queensland’s Future' (25 September 1897). 'Federation - An Acrostic' (24 June 1899) is an amusing look at the debate of that time.

Later Years

In the period from 1898 to 1900 Henry Symes buried two of his children and his wife. This must have been hard for him to bear. He spent some of the last years of his life living with his son’s families in Crows Nest and Chinchilla, where he passed away from senile decay on 2 February 1916. He is buried in the Presbyterian section of Toowoomba and Drayton Cemetery with Sarah Dicken Symes and their eldest daughter Sarah Maria Mackay.

Why did Henry Symes choose Sigma for his pen-name?

Sigma is the eighteenth letter in the Greek alphabet. He may have chosen Sigma for his birth date, Henry Hyde was probably born on 18 September 1831. Taking a poetic approach there are other meanings for Sigma.

In mathematics a capital Sigma, Σ means 'the sum of a set'. Lower case sigma, σ represents 'standard deviation.

Maybe, both these elements led to his choice of pen-name, as Henry Hyde as Sigma was 'summing up' and he had been taught to not be afraid to 'deviate' from the standard lines of thought.

If you have further information on this person please contact the Harry Gentle Resource Centre [email protected]



The Courier
15 March 1864, p. 4

Local Intelligence

Warwick Examiner and Times
2 November 1867, p. 2

The Gazette

The Brisbane Courier
14 October 1867, p. 3


The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser
6 November 1869, p. 3


Darling Downs Gazette
9 April 1884, p. 2

Family Notices

Warwick Examiner and Times
12 March 1887, p. 2

Original Poetry

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser
4 January 1893, p. 2

A Song of Toowoomba

Darling Downs Gazette
3 April 1897, p. 4

The Roses of Toowoomba

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser
12 October 1897, p. 3

Verses suggested by the Late Suicide in Toowoomba

Darling Downs Gazette
26 November 1898, p. 5


Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser
10 December 1898, p. 3


Darling Downs Gazette
24 December 1898, p. 3

A Monody in Memory of William Henry Groom

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser
24 August 1901, p. 3

The Late H. J. Symes

Darling Downs Gazette
5 February 1916, p. 6

Mr H. J. Symes

Queensland Times
4 February 1916, p. 7

In Tribute

Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser
11 August 1900, p. 3

Online Resources

Births, Deaths, Marriages and Divorces Queensland, marriage registration details: 1859/C/315
Births, Deaths, Marriages and Divorces Queensland, death registration details: 1916/C/385
Find a Grave - Henry James Symes