Gaffikin, Thomas (1809–93), linen merchant, town councillor, and lecturer, was born in Belfast, third son of Arthur Gaffikin (1772–1825), butcher, and his wife, Elizabeth Stewart (1770–1838). The Gaffikins came to Belfast c.1750 and farmed land around Sandy Row. Arthur Gaffikin and his brother John were butchers in William St., probably as an adjunct to the farm, and Mrs Gaffikin, a noted local beauty, was in the same business with premises in Montgomery's Market. By 1840 Thomas was also a butcher at 13 Corn Market, and continued to work as one until 1856. In 1846 he was living in Apsley Terrace, in Donegall Pass, which he had built; about this time he also built Wilmot Terrace on the Lisburn Road. In 1849 he built the terrace known as Queen's Elms opposite QCB, and in one of these houses he lived the rest of his life. He is also said to have built several streets of houses in south Belfast. By 1877 he was the proprietor of Thomas Gaffikin & Co., linen and linen-yarn merchants at 4 Bedford St. This remained his business for the rest of his life.
Gaffikin was a member of the Church of Ireland and a conservative unionist, who took little part in party politics, but confined his activities to public boards. He was first elected as town councillor for Cromac ward in the 1860s, and after losing his seat became councillor for St George's ward in 1880. He was noted for his practicality, energy, and concern for the poor, arranging for ground in the city cemetery to be set aside for the less well-off. He helped carry out the Woodburn scheme which afforded ratepayers clean water. Other positions included director of the Royal Botanic Gardens and member of the poor law board. As founder of the Working Men's Institute, he delivered at their premises in Castle St, on 8 April 1875, a lecture entitled ‘Belfast fifty years ago’, an account of the town when he was a boy. It was richly descriptive, amusing, and nostalgic, was subsequently published, and is still referred to in histories of Belfast. Jonathan Bardon calls it ‘the liveliest description of social life of early nineteenth-century Belfast’ (History of Belfast, 314).
Gaffikin died in Belfast on 26 March 1893. He married (1836) Mary McMurray (1817–87); they had four sons and five daughters. His youngest son, William, was a member of the first Irish rugby team which played England in London in February 1875.