Phillip Island & District Historical Society

William E Thompson of Thompson Ave fame

Last updated on 12-Apr-19

William. E. Thompson - our super citizen - by Julie Box and John Jansson

When driving into Cowes one of the first things that meets the eye is the impressive row of cypress trees that line the main street, known as “Thompson Avenue”.

These Golden Cypress pines have been a feature of the town for the past 100 years and continue to be a living testament to the efforts of one man.

W.E.Thompson, (William Eastwood), is one of Phillip Island’s most notable figures. The contributions he and his family made to the community and to the life of the town in general, span a period of nearly forty years.

In 1955 it prompted the president of the Phillip Island Shire, Cr A. Jones, to pay tribute to Mr Thompson on his death at the age of 85:

“We might well remember Mr W.E.Thompson as a super citizen, and realise that it is very unlikely we will see his like again”.

His “super citizen” efforts included a lifetime of giving to other people, and in particular to various groups and charities in both the Melbourne and Phillip Island communities.

His connection with the island began in 1889, when at the age of 21, he and his father James travelled from their home in Brighton to take part in a shooting trip.

They were among a party consisting of Messers Moore and Carter. They were keen shooters and wanted to help rid the island of hares that were in plaque proportions at the time.

This visit was the start of a long and strong association with the island for William. It saw him return on many occasions, and to eventually, in 1912, build a family home in Cowes.

Their home, in Chapel Street, was called “Talofa”. It provided a happy and comfortable residence for his wife Lucy, whom he had married in 1906, and his two daughters Lucy Ruth (b 1907) and Mary Ida (Molly b 1909).

These two girls were later to marry into two well known island families – Sambell and Dixon, respectively – and to work hard in the community while raising families of their own. 

In his working life W. E. Thompson was a founding director in a business that his father and partner, Leonard Chambers, had established in 1889, the Cyclone Woven Wire Fence Company.

This enterprise continued to develop and grow, with cyclone wire fencing becoming a national and well used commodity.

In 1925 it changed its name to Cyclone Fence and Gate Company Pty Ltd, a name that aptly described its principal business activities. 

In surviving the turbulence of the years and particularly those of the Great Depression, the demand for this product increased during World War Two when it was requisitioned to provide materials for military purposes.

In 1947, the directors formally registered Cyclone Company of Australia as a publicly listed company. 

Despite the workload this executive position demanded, W. E. Thompson always managed to find time to contribute to his local community, and in a variety of ways.

Contributing to Cowes

One of the most notable was his vision and care for the environment; an involvement that saw him taking a leading role in the greening and beautifying of Cowes.

It began in 1912, and shortly after his arrival, when William Thompson decided to enhance the landscape of Cowes by organising the first planting of Golden Cypress trees, from the Esplanade to Chapel Street.

Their appearance added a charm and ambience to the town for the many visitors and families who frequented the island as their favourite holiday destination.

One of the main entry points at that time was by ferry boat; and one of the first viewpoints when passengers stepped on to the jetty at Cowes was the welcoming sight of the pine trees.

His efforts in the planting of trees continued over the following years and saw these pines extend down the main street of Cowes for a mile long. Other trees, namely the Norfolk pines, were also to appear around various parts of the island, where some continue to stand tall and strong today.

The popularity and appreciation of these trees can still be felt today and serve as a reminder of William’s visionary skills.

“If you come into Cowes today you cannot imagine how dull and hard the town would look without these trees,” said local resident and historian Julie Box.

“The golden cypresses really soften the look of the place, and if they weren’t planted there over 100 years ago, the whole look of Cowes would be very different.

“It is wonderful that the work of W. E. Thompson is being carried on today with the Cowes Community Group, and I am sure that he would be thrilled that this is happening,” Julie said.

The newly formed Cowes Community Group has recently announced its Colour in Cowes project with the aim of brightening and enhancing the look of the town. By inviting the community to participate in this project and to share their ideas, this project, is in many ways continuing the good work and vision of W.E.Thompson.

In extending his philanthropic work on the island, William Thompson purchased a block of land and building in Warley Avenue Cowes, which he subsequently gave to the local community.

The resulting Warley Hospital was opened in 1923 and provided general and specialist medical care for the whole of the island until its closure in 2008.

“His generosity in providing for this hospital made an extraordinary difference to the town,” Julie Box explained.

“I don’t think people realise just how much he contributed to the community. He was both very generous and a successful business man,” she said.

Five years later, in 1928, W.E.Thompson was elected to the first council of the new Shire of Phillip Island. His wife Lucy also became a councillor in 1931.

In between times the Thompson family spent up to a period of six months volunteering as missionaries in the New Hebrides islands.

For a total of 38 years (until they left the island in 1950) Mr and Mrs Thompson devoted themselves to the welfare of the community with a measure of tireless service and substantial material gifts, which many consider to be unique to any country town in Victoria’s history.

As well as their environmental interests, they played a prominent role in supporting the community sports oval, the state school, the welfare of the island’s koala population, provided funds necessary for the establishment of the electric power station in Cowes, the erection of the cairn at Rhyll and generous contributions to the cause of the Red Cross during and after both world wars.

In being devout Christians, the Thompsons are remembered particularly for their financial and personal support to the St John’s Uniting Church in Cowes.

One of his many eulogies describes W.E.Thompson as a pillar of the church. It states that he was always willing to lend a helping hand in the building of this church and manse, and to offer material needs for the congregation whenever the occasion arose.

On his death in November 1955, his list of beneficiaries included two hospitals and six religious missions. These were spread throughout the city and country.

As has been noted since, and on many occasions, the full extent of his kindness to the community and needy people everywhere, will never be fully known.

Perhaps the most fitting accolade is the honour bestowed on him by the people of Phillip Island in 1937.

On a beautiful sunny day the community gathered outside the Shire Hall to hear the island’s principal thoroughfare officially named as Thompson Avenue. It was a unanimous decision that is still regarded as a genuine token of gratitude for this hard working and generous “super citizen”.

William Eastwood Thompson – Time Line

1868    Born at Brighton, Victoria to James Thompson and Ruth Eastwood.

1889    William made his first visit to Phillip Island with a shooting party consisting of his father James and J. Moore and a Mr. Carter.  They stayed at Solomon West’s Block 101.  They returned frequently in those early years.

Early    Leonard Chambers entered intoa partnership with William Thompson to

1890’s manufacture beekeepers’ hives and accessories.

1898    Chambers and Thompson purchased the Australian rights of a woven wire fence from the American Cyclone Fence Company, which they introduced into Victoria.

1906    Married Lucy Kruger Davidson at Niranda, near Warrnambool, Victoria.

1906    A factory in Franklin Street Melbourne was constructed and was added to in Swanston Street in 1913.

1907    Daughter Lucy Ruth born at Brighton.  She was later to marry Albert Keaston TrenavinSambell jun. of Ventnor.

1909    Daughter Mary Ida (Molly) born at Brighton.  She was later to marry Laurence Rex Dixon of Ventnor.

1912    Thompson’s Cowes home “Talofa” was built in Chapel Street by Brunswick builders Ewen& Findlay.  The Thompson family moved to Cowes and William continued on as a director of Cyclone.

1912    William organized the first plantingscypress trees in Main Street, from The Esplanade to Chapel Street.

1917    William left for the New Hebrides for six months with builders George and Harold Ewento do missionary work for the Presbyterian Church.  They built a manse and hospital at Vila.

1923    Warley Hospital opened in Warley Avenue Cowes in a building purchased and given to the community by William Thompson.

1928    William and Lucy and daughter Ruth spent five months in New Hebrides on missionary work.

1928    William Thompson was elected to the first council of the new Shire of Phillip Island.

1931    Lucy Thompson was elected as a councillor of the Shire of Phillip Island.

1933    William and Lucy spent six months abroad in the New Hebrides on missionary work.

1937    The Island’s principal thoroughfare was named Thompson Avenue as a token of gratitude for William and Lucy’s service to Phillip Island.

1950    William and Lucy returned to Melbourne to live at Caulfield.

1952    William died at his home 1 Fosbery Street, Caulfield, leaving most of his estate of £164,158 to charities involved in church mission work.

1968    Lucy died at Armadale, Melbourne at the age of 88.


William Eastwood Thompson

and the Cyclone Woven Wire Fence Company

Cyclone was formed in the early 1890s, when Leonard Chambers entered into a partnership with William Thompson to manufacture beekeepers’ hives and accessories. They also imported and distributed queen bees, to improve the existing strain of Australian bees.

In the mid 1890s, Chambers read a small advertisement in an issue of a US beekeepers’ journal that proclaimed the merits of a manually operated machine able to weave wire fencing directly onto previously erected fence posts. Envisaging the scope for such a fence in Australia Chambers contacted the manufacturers, Lane Bros, who had established the Cyclone Fence Company in the United States. Negotiations to secure the Australian rights were successfully carried out by mail and Cyclone Woven Wire Fence Company was established in Melbourne in 1898. Initially all the wire and pickets had to be imported from the United States as the Australian steel industry was nonexistent.

Cyclone Pty Ltd was incorporated in 1914, just before World War I; soon afterwards the company, like many manufacturing businesses, experienced difficulties, particularly in acquiring supplies of raw materials.  Deliveries of imported goods were extremely unreliable and the prices high - wire cost an exorbitant 7 pounds a ton.

In 1925 the company changed its name to Cyclone Fence and Gate Company Pty Ltd, more accurately reflecting its principal business activities.  It survived the 1930s Depression without trading at a loss and in 1937 secured the Australian agency for tubular scaffold fittings manufactured by London and Midland Steel Scaffolding Co.

With World War II, Cyclone, with its expertise in the wire industry, was quickly requisitioned to provide supplies for military purposes. The wartime demands stretched the capabilities both of the company’s plants and personnel to their limit. Consequently, by the time peace was declared in 1945, Cyclone’s civilian trade had totally dropped off.

In 1947, after obtaining advice from the stockbroking firm Ian Potter and Co., the directors formally registered Cyclone Company of Australia as a publicly listed company. The new capital in the company was offered to the existing thirty shareholders and to the general public on a two-thirds to one-third allocation. Shares were offered to the public at an issue price of 1 pound with a premium of 1 pound and were eagerly sought.


Ref. Boral’s First 50 years. Boral website.



Cyclone Pty Ltd.


The Cyclone company was described in 1903 as having purchased the Australian rights of the Cyclone woven wire fence in 1898 which they introduced into Victoria. This was immediately before the vast expansion on this site.  Smith’s Cyclopedia of  Victoria of 1904 described the new firm as follows:


‘These fences rapidly found favour throughout the States, and in order to meet the steadily increasing demand it has been necessary to add continually to the firm's already extensive business.  Among the numerous lines taken up is the Wellman automatic elevating gate, which may be opened by persons on horseback or driving -without the slightest difficulty. Crimped pickets used in conjunction with the Cyclone wire fence are made on the premise by a powerful machine, through which thewire is passed to obtain the necessary crimp. … A branch business has lately been established in Pietermaritzburg on the same lines and dimensions as the Melbourne house, and the firm intend shortly to open in Johannesburg and at Port Elizabeth. Some thirty hands are constantly employed in the Melbourne establishment, and the firm is represented throughout the country districts by some hundred agents, who assist in the erection of the fences, … An enormous business is transacted yearly by the firm, … the firm enjoys an extensive connection throughout the Commonwealth and abroad.’


The firm pronounced in 1907 that they provided ‘Fences for the Suburbs’; a Cyclone woven fence kept dogs and cattle at bay and was artistic as well.Cyclone Pty Ltd was incorporated in c1914-15, just before World War One. However, like many manufacturing businesses dealing with house and farm construction, the Cyclone company had great difficulty with the lower demand and the firm’s name had changed by 1927 to Cyclone Fence & Gate Co. and by 1948, to the Cyclone Company of Australia. The firm was an icon in farm and domestic fencing but eventually became associated with chain wire security fences. 


Ref.  Statement of Evidence & Report to Planning Panel,

RMIT University Buildings 37, 39 & 81.

Lovell Chen, Architects & Heritage Consultants.