Thomas Ford, William Shakespeare and the Gallipoli Landing: a Story in Bookplates

The University of Queensland Library houses many stories and memories, often under seemingly inconspicuous covers. Recently, while looking through some older titles in the Central Library, two library staff members came across an early 20th century imprint of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, with an embossed Brisbane Grammar School crest on the front cover. Intrigued, we opened the book to find out more. We uncovered a fascinating hundred-year-old story of a family's wartime tragedy, closely linked to the history of the University of Queensland.

Opening the book uncovered two bookplates. The left hand side displayed a bookplate with the crest of Brisbane Grammar School, and a Latin inscription. Translated, the inscription announces that the book was given to a T.W. Ford, as a prize for Greek, Latin and French studies, at Brisbane Grammar School on the 28th of February, 1911. The right hand side displays a bookplate with a memorial wreath. This inscription states that the book was presented to the University of Queensland Library by Mr T.S.H Ford, in memory of his sons, Lieutenant Sydney Kelso Ford and Corporal Thomas Walter Ford, killed in action.

Bookplates from “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”, University of Queensland Library

The date of the first bookplate, combined with the mention of the Australian Imperial Forces, intrigued us. We decided to put on our research hats and discover more about Thomas Walter Ford and his UQ connection. With assistance from the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives of Australia, the National Library of Australia's 'Trove' service, the Brisbane Grammar School archives and the University of Queensland archives, we'd like to share a short history of the life, and tragic death, of Thomas Walter Ford, and his legacy to the University of Queensland.

Thomas Walter Ford was born in Maryborough, Queensland, on March 28th, 1895, second son of Thomas Sydney Herbert Ford and Emma Mary Ford. His parents separated when he was a child, and Thomas and his older brother Sydney moved to Brisbane with their father, where the boys both attended Brisbane Grammar School. Thomas commenced at Grammar in 1909, and proved to be a keen scholar and athlete. He passed the Queensland University Junior Exam in 1911 with distinctions in History and Geography, and gained a full scholarship to Grammar to complete his senior schooling. Later that year, he won prizes at the school's speech day for English, History, Geography and Languages (the latter of these being the Shakespeare volume which made its way to the University of Queensland Library collection.) He played in the Grammar 1st XV rugby team and represented the school in rowing. Despite excellent academic results, Thomas fell ill just before Senior Examinations in 1913 and was unable to qualify for university, instead taking a post after school as a clerk with the Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board1.

Portrait of Thomas Walter Ford in A.I.F uniform, from Annals of the Brisbane Grammar School 1869-1922. Courtesy of Vivien Harris, Archivist, Brisbane Grammar School

Thomas Ford was a keen military man, joining the Oxley regiment of the Citizens' Militia Force (Army Reserve) after his eighteenth birthday. When World War I was declared in August 1914, Thomas was quick to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces, signing his enlistment papers at the Enoggera Barracks on the 20th of August, 1914, and shipping out on the HMAT Omrah four days later for Egypt. Fellow soldiers described Thomas as "a tall man, well-liked by everyone"2 and nicknamed him "Tommy"3. After basic training in Egypt, Thomas's unit, the 9th Infantry Battallion, joined the 3rd Brigade for the assault on Gallipoli. Thomas and his company were among the first on the beaches early in the morning of the 25th of April, 1915, and by the end of the day he was reported as "being shot through the heart"4 and killed, although it would take another 18 months before his death was confirmed. Thomas's older brother Sydney also enlisted in June 1915, after the first reports of his brother's disappearance reached home. Tragically, he was also killed in action, on the 23rd of July, 1916 at Pozieres in France5.

After his sons' death, Thomas Ford Sr. donated some of their books to the University of Queensland Library, which included memorial bookplates dedicated to both Thomas and Sydney. The books, including the Shakespeare, eventually became part of the collection at the Central Library, where they are used by students to this day. He also donated £100, through the Queensland United Licenced Victuallers' Association, to the University in 1916, to establish the Ford Memorial Medal for Poetry. The award has been won by many esteemed Australian writers, among them poet Colin Bingham, novelist Felicity Volk and screenwriter John Concannon6.

From one small book, a sad story of a young man's achievement, loss and commemoration unfolds. We are humbled and gratified by the ultimate sacrifice made by Corporal Thomas Walter Ford; by keeping and preserving his book, we hope to honour the memory of this intelligent, dedicated young Queenslander.

(Post written by Jennifer Creese, Central Library)




1. Brisbane Grammar School General Register, Vol I, p. 283
2. Pte. A. Marshall, 9th Battalion, 29 May 1916, quoted in AIF Australian Casualty List, in National Archives of Australia NAA: B2455 #4023154
3. Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Files, Entry IDRL/0428, Australian War Memorial
4. Ex-Corporal J.C. Henderson, 9th Battalion, Statutory Declaration dated 6 March 1916, in National Archives of Australia NAA: B2455 #4023154
5. Death notification, 2nd Lieutenant Sydney Kelso Ford, dated 16th February 1917, in National Archives of Australia NAA: B2455 #4024186
6."Ford Memorial Prize for Poetry", entry in AUSTLIT database.
Last updated:
1 February 2019