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Angas, John Howard (1823–1904)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Howard Angas, by S. G. Spink, c1890

John Howard Angas, by S. G. Spink, c1890

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5559

John Howard Angas (1823-1904), pastoralist, politician and philanthropist, was born on 5 October 1823 at Newcastle upon Tyne, England, second son and fifth child of George Fife Angas and his wife Rosetta, née French. At about 4 Angas was boarded out with an elderly couple in the village of Hutton, near Ilford, Essex, where his parents were living. The family moved several times and Angas was educated at various schools and by tutors 'carefully chosen by his father for their piety'. He went to school at Billericay, Essex, and Tavistock, Devon, and for a short time after the family had moved to Paddington he attended the University of London. As a boy Angas showed himself to be an earnest, clever student, little given to ordinary schoolboy amusements, disciplined and self-reliant.  

In 1841 he entered G. F. Angas & Co. His father's affairs in South Australia were then causing him great financial difficulties. That year he told John that he was to go to the colony to manage his estate. Angas learned German, land surveying and mapping to help him in his dealings with his father's German tenants and with the subdivision of his Barossa estate. He left England in the Madras in April 1843 with his sister Mrs Evans, her husband and child, and reached Adelaide in September. Angas soon made his headquarters at Tarrawatta, near Angaston, and began buying stock. He worked hard and under rough pioneering conditions, while in England his father's fortunes waned. However, the position of the Angas estates in South Australia had so improved that when George Fife joined his son in 1851 he could make his home in considerable comfort. The burden of management still fell to John Howard Angas until he left for England, where he arrived in April 1854. There he met and on 10 May 1855 married Susanne, daughter of Richard Collins, a corn-factor of Bowdon, Cheshire. He returned with his wife to South Australia and established his home at Tarrawatta: first a cottage and later the fine homestead known as Collingrove. Residence there was not unbroken, for Susanne's health gave way and they had to return to England where a son and a daughter were born. Angas made several visits to the colony and on his fourth outward voyage his wife and children accompanied him.

In 1867 his mother died and his father's old age made increasing demands on him. In 1870 his son Charles was sent to England for education and seven years later Mrs Angas followed with her daughter. Angas remained to be near his ailing father and when he eventually joined his family early in 1879, news of his father's death in May recalled him rapidly to the colony. George Fife left an estate worth some £443,000, and as one of three local executors Angas had the heavy task of winding up his father's affairs. He went to great lengths to carry out his father's last wishes, one being the compilation of his memoirs from his papers and journals. Despite his personal distaste for such literary pursuits Angas gave 'untiring assistance' first to Henry Hussey and then to Edwin Hodder who in London published George Fife Angas (1891) and the two-volume History of South Australia (1893).

Angas's career as a pastoralist in his own right began soon after his marriage. In 1856 he bought a cattle run at Mount Remarkable to which he gradually added further freeholds. Growth of stock numbers led to more acquisitions: the Arrowie and Wirrialpa stations, the rich Hill River estate near Clare in 1876 as a merino stud, Point Sturt near Lake Alexandrina as a Shorthorn stud, Kingsford near Roseworthy as a fattening depot, and others. In addition to these freeholds Angas leased large areas from the crown, including runs at Stuart's Creek and Finniss Springs, near Lake Eyre, where he sank artesian bores. In 1882 he sold his large Mount Remarkable property to the Willowie Land and Pastoral Co., a transaction which was disputed by the purchasers, involving Angas in a costly court case. The verdict was in Angas's favour but, as a result of the company's debts to him, he became its largest shareholder. His holdings were vast and scattered and his insistence on close personal supervision of his men and land involved long hours in the saddle and weeks away from home, leaving little time for domesticity in his life.

From his earliest years in the colony Angas had made a point of buying high quality stock, mostly imported from England. For him it was not only a matter of making money or winning renown as one of South Australia's foremost stud-breeders, but also of helping the colony by raising the general standard of livestock. Among the animals bred by him were Shorthorns and Herefords, Clydesdales, thoroughbred and carriage horses, merino and Lincoln sheep and Berkshire pigs. His interests even extended to importing pedigree donkeys to improve the breed used on his northern properties and he was the largest shareholder in the South Australian Ostrich Co. His livestock won hundreds of prizes in shows all over Australia.

Filial duty played a large role in Angas's life. The father's dominating personality tended to overshadow the son, who appeared self-effacing, always 'ready to concede more than his father asked for'. The two were never on entirely relaxed terms although associated in many religious and philanthropic concerns. For many years Angas was content to manage his father's business, making the money and leaving his father free to pursue his parliamentary and philanthropic interests. After 1867, however, he had to act with increasing frequency as his father's public representative, and was thus drawn into a more active and open role in the community. His political career began in 1871 when he was persuaded to stand for the House of Assembly, and he became a member for the district of Barossa until 1876 when he resigned through pressure of business, but he later resumed his parliamentary career as a member of the Legislative Council for Central District in 1887-94. Intensely practical and methodical, he was impatient of the time-wasting talk of parliamentary business and although he attended sessions conscientiously he never sought ministerial office.

Angas was a shrewd businessman and an exacting employer but at the same time deeply religious; if sometimes intolerant in his dealings, he strove always to be 'strictly just'. He was by choice a Congregationalist, strict in religious observance, emphatic in his belief in the Bible, especially in its importance in the training of the young. His active interest in Sunday schools continued throughout his life. In many philanthropic concerns he took over from his father and gave generously to charity. His gifts ran to thousands a year, often secret, the causes chosen with care and deliberation. He was South Australian president of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the British and Foreign Sailors' Society and the Bushmen's Club, vice-president of the Adelaide Children's Hospital and member of many other organizations, particularly agricultural societies. He donated generously to many missionary enterprises, including the work of the London Missionary Society in New Guinea. His total gifts to Dr Barnardo's Homes exceeded £44,000 over some thirty years. He paid for building a wing at the children's convalescent home at Semaphore and at the home for incurables. He helped to establish various institutions for the deaf and blind and his interest in the temperance movement led to the founding of the retreat for inebriates at Belair, to which a pig farm and missionary training college were later added. In 1878 he gave £4000 to the University of Adelaide to found the Angas engineering exhibition and in 1884 £6000 for a chair of chemistry.

In 1901-02 Angas was recommended three times for a knighthood; the Colonial Office deemed him worthy but delayed action because of the new federal system. He died on 17 May 1904 at Collingrove, predeceasing his wife by six years and leaving two children. He left an estate worth some £800,000.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess, John Howard Angas (Adel, 1906)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 21 May 1904.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Angas, John Howard (1823–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/angas-john-howard-2890/text4141, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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