This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969
Joseph Aarons (1821-1904), pastoralist and property owner, was born in Sydney, son of Joseph Aarons, merchant, and his wife Rachael, née Schlazenger, and educated by William Timothy Cape. In 1839 in partnership with Edward Austin he opened a general store in Bathurst. In 1840 he decided to extend his activities to the Wellington Valley but whilst travelling there was waylaid by bushrangers and robbed of goods worth £400. This encounter seems to have dampened his ardour, for there is no record of his having opened a store in that locality. He had not disposed of his business in Bathurst, where he later conducted an hotel, but he began dealing in livestock, an activity from which he was to make a fortune.
In 1854 Aarons acquired Burrendong station in the Wellington Valley and bought the livestock running on the property. Knowing that Victoria was a good market for stock he drove a thousand head of cattle south where they were sold at a good profit. Encouraged by this success he returned to Burrendong and bought large numbers of stock for sale in Victoria. His continued success in this venture soon established his reputation for sound business acumen. At the same time he extended his land holdings in the Wellington Valley and in 1859 bought for £7125 Nanima station, 16,000 acres (6475 ha) with 14,000 sheep. The vendor, Joseph Montefiore, had settled in Adelaide where, deeply involved in commerce, he was unable to devote much attention to his holdings in New South Wales and was prepared to sacrifice his property.
Aarons later sold part of his holdings in the Wellington Valley to John A. Gardiner, a successful grazier, a generous benefactor of the district and a friendly rival of Aarons. By 1865 he had extended his holdings along the Castlereagh and Bogan Rivers whilst his influence extended into southern Queensland although Nanima was for many years his head station. There he passed much of his time spending large sums on improvements which included a sixteen-stand shearing shed capable of sheltering 1500 sheep. Among his large staff was 'Podgy Dicky' Taylor who had served a sentence at the convict agricultural settlement and was reputed to have played a part in the discovery of the Wellington Caves.
For a time Aarons continued to prosper but borrowed heavily to finance his activities and in 1881 was forced to mortgage Nanima for £60,000. By 1890 he was in financial difficulties and to meet his commitments he had to dispose of much of his land. Three years later in a further attempt to reduce his liabilities he subdivided Nanima and sold 7000 acres (2833 ha) as town and farm allotments. He continued to work the remainder but was unable to recover his financial position and in 1899 the Commercial Bank of Sydney took over the station. It was later bought by Charles H. Barton, manager of the local branch of the bank and owner of Towri station. Aarons managed to retain possession of land and property in the town and at the time of his death was in receipt of an assured income from rents.
Active in community affairs, Aarons had been appointed a magistrate in 1865. He was prominent in moves for establishing the Municipal Council of Wellington and in 1879 won a seat in it at the first municipal elections; later he became Wellington's first mayor. Early next year whilst absent from a meeting of council his action in closing a road passing through Nanima was strongly criticized and Aarons resigned in protest. A prominent foundation member of the Pastoral and Agricultural Society, a member and trustee of the Wellington Hospital for many years and a trustee of St John's Church of England, he was also an active and generous supporter of other cultural and charitable works. Jovial and sociable he entertained on a lavish scale: during the visit to Sydney in 1881 of a squadron of the British fleet he entertained some eighty officers and ratings at a kangaroo shoot on his property. In return for his hospitality he was invited to visit the fleet where he met the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York (later George V) then serving as midshipmen.
After a short illness Aarons died on 23 June 1904 and was buried in the Wellington cemetery. On 1 April 1842 he had married Mary, first daughter of George Kable of Bathurst, and on 11 June 1884 he married Elizabeth, daughter of W. J. Hales of Goolma. She survived him with eight of their eleven children, including an infant aged seven weeks.
Although an astute businessman in his early and middle life he was unable to adjust his investments to withstand the droughts and financial crises which threatened the economy of New South Wales in the 1890s. At his death he was a comparatively poor man and his widow had to sell much of his estate to meet his liabilities. But his financial disasters did not prevent his enjoyment of good company or restrict his interest in community affairs.
D. I. McDonald, 'Aarons, Joseph (1823–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/aarons-joseph-2/text4061, accessed 13 December 2013.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969