Ian Thorpe Family History


Ian James Thorpe was born on October 13th, 1982 to Ken and Margaret Thorpe in Milperra, a suburb of Sydney in Australia.

As a young child, Thorpe was sidelined by an allergy to chlorine.  As a result he did not swim in his first race until a school carnival at the age of seven.  But his swimming progress after that time was fast.  He was large for his age, being over six feet tall by the time he was fourteen.

He became then the youngest male ever to represent Australia.  His victory in the 400 meter freestyle at the 1998 Perth World Championships made him the youngest-ever individual male World Champion. After that victory Thorpe dominated the 400 meter freestyle, winning the event at every Olympic, World, Commonwealth and Pan Pacific Swimming Championships until his break after the 2004 Olympics in Athens.  He had by then acquired the nickname of “Thorpedo” because of his speed in swimming. 

Ian Thorpe announced his retirement from competitive swimming in November 2006, citing waning motivation.  He made a brief comeback in 2011 and 2012.  He came out as gay in 2014.

Thorpe from Sussex to Armidale, NSW

Ian Thorpe’s paternal ancestry is English, with a family line that has been traced back to the county of Sussex and John Thorpe who died in Worth in 1605.  These Thorpes were well placed.  His son Giles attended Oxford University and was described as a gentleman.  However, the family became indebted in the 1650’s and their fortunes declined.

Later Thorpes in the mid-1700’s were farm laborers – John Thorpe, followed by his son George and grandson Jonathan.  Jonathan, born in Barcombe in 1803, emigrated to Australia with his family on the Tantivy in 1854.  The family included his wife Elizabeth and maybe all of their seven children.

These Thorpes came to Armidale in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales.  Armidale was not founded until 1840 and the area was still in the 1850’s mainly virgin farming territory,  The nearby town of Uralla holds the grave of the famous Captain Thunderbolt – aka the outlaw Fred Ward – who caused trouble to settlers in the 1860’s.

Charles Thorpe, born in 1843, was the youngest of the Thorpe children.  He married Emma Long at Armidale in 1865 and they raised a large family.  Norman Thorpe, born in 1891, was the youngest of their children.  He and his wife Sophia had two children – Cecil and Marjorie – who both married McLeods from a neighboring farm.

Thorpe in Sydney and its Suburbs

Cecil Thorpe – with his weak heart and rheumatic fever – decided that he was not suited to a farmer’s life.  With his young wife Gwen in tow, he went to Sydney in 1946 in search of work.  But the big city was not much to their liking.  They moved around a lot in rental places before they were able to leave for the suburbs in the mid-1950’s.

They moved to Padstow where Cecil was able to find work as a crane operator in the warehouse district of St. Peters.  Even though they had cheap housing there, it was always a struggle for Cecil to provide on a single income enough for his large family of six.  Luxuries were few.

Ken was his oldest son and he and his wife Margaret moved to the Sydney suburb of Milperra.  They had two children, Christina and Ian.  Ian would describe his family life as “ordinary.”  Both his parents worked, they were conservative by nature, and cautious with their money.

Ian Thorpe’s Family Tree

  • Jonathan Thorpe (1803-1878) from Barcombe in Sussex m. Elizabeth Chatfield in Sussex in 1823
  • – Charles Thorpe (1843-1931)
  • Charles Thorpe m. Emma Long (1847-1912) in Armidale, NSW in 1865
  • – Alice Thorpe (1869-1952) m. Samuel Prind
  • – Edwin Thorpe (1871-1962)
  • – Albert Thorpe (1872-1957) m. Melinda Manuel
  • – Bertha Thorpe (1876-1907) m. Francis Manuel
  • – Ida Thorpe (1879-1962) m. William Dawson
  • – Eva Thorpe (1879-1955) m. Robin Bell
  • – Fred Thorpe (1880-1966) m. Alma Roan
  • – Elsie Thorpe (1884-1967) m. Herbert Milson
  • – Russell Thorpe (1886-1978)
  • – Mabel Thorpe (1889-1989) m. Jethro Bell
  • – Norman Thorpe (1891-1951)
  • Norman Thorpe m. Sophia Hare (1890-1979) in Armidale
  • – Cecil Thorpe (1916-2000)
  • – Marjorie Thorpe (1922-2005) m. Launder McLeod
  • Cecil Thorpe m. Gwen McLeod (b. 1925) in Armidale in 1945
  • – Ken Thorpe (b. 1949)
  • – plus Cheryl Thorpe and four other children
  • Ken Thorpe m. Margaret Hathaway in Milperra in 1978
  • – Christina Thorpe (b. 1979)
  • – Ian Thorpe (b. 1982)



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Written by Colin Shelley

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