The Harland diaspora

Thomas Wells Harland (‘Tom’)

b.12 March 1881 at Hillside Bessbrook

m. 19 July 1913, Atlanta, GA. USA

d. 12 December 1967 Covina, California


Tom was a Wells - only 5 feet, 8 inches tall!  He joined the Royal Engineers of the British army, and served in South Africa during the Boer War (1899 – 1902).


When he first went to South Africa he had been given a letter of introduction to the Lee family in Capetown which produced an unusual dénouement. He nearly became engaged to Marion Lee, but she would not leave South Africa to marry him. However, he continued to keep up a long continuing correspondence with her youngest sister Lily Ann.


When the Boer War ended Tom  worked briefly in Kimberley, before returning home. With no real prospects in Bessbrook, he emigrated to the USA in 1905 and lived near his brother Jack in Atlanta GA. Despite the years rolling on and the miles between them, Lily and he continued their liaison and finally became engaged with the help of the postal service. Eventually Lily  set off for the USA and they were married in Atlanta on 19 July 1913.


In 1916 or 1917 they moved north to Brooklyn, New York City; and  shortly after that they moved again to New Dorp, Staten Island NY . This was to be their home for the next 42 years. Their two daughters were born there, Mary in 1918, and K in 1919. Tom was in the building business; to begin with this meant building private homes in Staten Island. Later he took on industrial work in several different States. In 1926/27 he worked in St. Augustine, Florida, and this meant a temporary transfer for the whole family. Later work took him to the mid-west where he built hangars for Curtis Wright in Ohio and Michigan. This was right at the start of the ascending development of the commercial aviation industry. He came to accept air travel as the norm; even despite what happened next.


Tom was nearly killed in a plane crash; he was a passenger flying from Detroit to Toledo in a light aircraft, a Curtis Robin. Just after take-off the plane was hit by a westerly wind squall. The pilot wisely chose to crash into a tree rather than into the Detroit River. Tom suffered from fractures of his spine and both legs, which took many months of recuperation.  Almost immediately on resuming work he was a passenger on the maiden flight of the Curtis Condor from Columbus Ohio to Valley Stream, Long Island NY. This was a twin-engined bi-plane, the commercial marvel of it era. When Tom’s work for Curtis Wright ended he joined the National City Bank Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company as a surveyor; and he worked there until retirement in 1945.


The eldest son of John Harland (1854) was a man of  many  interests. He was a founder member of Oakwood Heights (Staten Island) Community Church (Congregational), where he was both organist and choirmaster, and built an extension to the church - for Tom loved doing things with his hands.  He always had a workshop in his home where he spent many hours making or fixing things.  He made toys and furniture for his daughters and did beautiful woodcarving. In later years he developed new skills making stained glass windows and mosaics, with the former becoming a dominant activity.  Every window in his  church was replaced with stained glass windows made in his workshop at home and he also made and presented two fine mosaics. However, he was ecumenical; he made and gave stained glass windows to both the Jewish synagogue and the Roman Catholic chapel in the vicinity or his own church. The amazing quality of his work is best seen in close-up by visiting the Windows pages of this website:

Tom with his  brother Jack in their seventies (1957)