Falconer, Thomas (1805–1882)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1995

Thomas Falconer, jurist and adventurer, was born on June 25, 1805, in Bath, England, the second son of Rev. Thomas and Frances (Raitt) Falconer. His father was a physician, and his mother was a daughter of Lt. Col. Robert Raitt of the Second (or Queen's) Regiment of Foot. Falconer was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1823 and to the bar in 1830. After practicing for some years as an equity draftsman and conveyancer, he set about codifying the laws and statutes of England. From 1837 to 1840 he was the revising barrister of the London burroughs of Finsbury, Tower Hamlets, and Marylebone.

In 1840 he determined to immigrate to the Republic of Texas, where, according to a letter of introduction to President Mirabeau B. Lamar, "his services in its infant juris-prudence will be of no small value." He sailed from Liverpool for Boston on the Britannia on October 20 and arrived in Austin in May 1841, just as word of the intended Texan Santa Fe expedition was on every tongue. Thinking the expedition into the wilderness a great opportunity for adventure, he sought and received Lamar's permission to accompany Hugh McLeod's command as "historiographer" and scientific observer. In Lamar's words, "immense accessions" were to be gained by Falconer's "observations and labors to our knowledge of a Country, of which we are almost entirely ignorant." Before departing from San Antonio Falconer established a warm friendship with George Wilkins Kendall of the New Orleans Picayune, who was also to accompany the expedition as a chronicler. Kendall described Falconer as "a young gentleman of high literary and scientific attainments, mild and agreeable manners, and extremely sociable and companionable from the first." On the trail toward New Mexico Indians stole Falconer's horse, and a prairie fire singed off his hair and eyebrows. Although accustomed from birth to "the luxuries and good things of an English fireside," he endured the hardships of the journey across unexplored Texas well and even appointed himself camp cook for his circle of friends. When McLeod divided his command on the Pease River on August 31, Falconer, because he was now dismounted, was detailed to remain in camp. His diary of this period, published as an appendix to the 1856 edition of Kendall's Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, is of special significance, since it provides the only record of attacks by the Kiowas on Falconer's party and their near starvation before McLeod's men returned on October 9 as prisoners of the Mexicans. The two halves of the expedition, now reunited, were marched to El Paso and then to Chihuahua, where Falconer was confined in the Salón de los Distinguidos of the Jesuit hospital at the presidio, the very room in which Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla had been held captive after the collapse of his revolt in 1811. The prisoners were removed to Zacatecas and allowed to roam at will until, because of a clerical error, Falconer was placed under close arrest on New Year's night and remained so on the march to Mexico City. Upon arrival at the Mexican capital on February 3, 1842, however, he was immediately released at the demand of the British minister. He left the city a month later. Falconer's account of the Santa Fe expedition was published in New Orleans in 1842 as Expedition to Santa Fé: An Account of Its Journey from Texas through Mexico, with Particulars of Its Capture. This was supplemented by "Notes of a Journey through Texas and New Mexico, in the Years 1841 and 1842," published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London in 1844.

After returning from Texas Falconer chronicled his travels in such major works as The Oregon Question; or a Statement of the British Claims to the Oregon Territory in Opposition to the Pretensions of the Government of the United States of America. In 1848 he was offered, but declined, an appointment as private secretary to Sir Henry Barkley, governor of British Guiana. Late in 1850 he was appointed an arbitrator to determine the boundary between New Brunswick and Canada, and on July 29, 1851, he was nominated to, but declined to accept, the position of colonial secretary of Western Australia. On December 22, 1851, however, he accepted appointment as judge of the Welsh county courts of Glamorganshire and Brecknockshire and of the district of Rhayader in Radnorshire. As a judge he was described as "a laborious worker, a staunch liberal, an energetic opponent of abuses, and a strong advocate of prison reform." He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Geological Society. After thirty years on the bench Falconer retired, in December 1881. He died at Bath on August 28, 1882, as a result of a fall he had suffered the previous June.

George Wilkins Kendall, Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition (2 vols., New York: Harper, 1844; rpts. Austin: Steck, 1935; n.p.: Readex, 1966).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Falconer, Thomas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 08, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/falconer-thomas.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995