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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Coxen, Henry William (1823–1915)

by A. H. Chisholm

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

Henry William Coxen (1823-1915), pastoralist, was born on 3 March 1823 at Croydon, Surrey, England, the eldest son of Henry Cunningham Coxen, a captain in the 14th Regiment, and his wife Eliza, née Adams. He was educated at Eton. A gunshot accident in schooldays rendered his right hand virtually useless, and the injury was probably a factor in causing him to be sent to Australia in the care of his uncle and aunt, John and Elizabeth Gould, in 1838.

After additional slight schooling in Tasmania (Mrs Gould records that he was 'miserable at the mere mention of it') he was transferred to Yarrundi in the Hunter River valley, the property of his uncle Stephen Coxen. Following a quarrel with Stephen, he went north to a property managed by another uncle, Charles Coxen, and had acquired a fair knowledge of pastoral work by 1842 when he undertook an arduous trek farther north again and established himself as one of the youngest of the early settlers on the Darling Downs. An associate was Patrick Leslie.

Coxen later became one of the best-known and most prosperous of Queensland pastoralists. He first formed Jondaryan station and afterwards became owner or part-owner of at least seventeen other large grazing leases. His career was varied from time to time by clashes with Aboriginals, by depressions, by a six-month journey overlanding 3000 sheep from southern New South Wales to the Darling Downs and by an adventure in mining on the Turon goldfield. In addition he twice visited England, first in 1845 working for three years with a mercantile firm, and second in 1867 travelling extensively and speculating in many mediums; he later confessed to having lost heavily on foreign securities and sugar-growing ventures in South Africa.

Coxen returned to Queensland in 1880 and spent his last years in retirement at Oxley, near Brisbane, his chief interests then being detached attention to the growth of the pastoral industry and the practice of Freemasonry. He died at Oxley on 21 August 1915, survived by his wife Margaret, née Moorhead, whom he had married on 1 February 1866 at St Andrews Church, Brighton, Victoria, and by two sons and two daughters. One son, Henry Charles (b.1869), was chief of staff of the Public Works Department, Queensland, and the other, Walter Adams (b.1870), achieved distinction as a military commander.

Coxen's life covered an extraordinary variety of experience, ranging from contact with Sir John Franklin in Tasmania in 1838 and the beginnings of settlement in Queensland to events of the twentieth century. According to his fellow-pastoralists, some of whom alluded to him as 'Scrammy' because of his maimed hand, he was forthright and impetuous but also courageous and generally competent. A similar point had been made in 1839 by Mrs Gould who wrote, 'There is no want of ability and I trust there will not be of inclination'.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Chisholm, The Story of Elizabeth Gould (Melb, 1944)
  • H. M. Challinor, ‘Pioneer Queenslanders, the Coxen family’, Daily Mail (Brisbane), 17 May 1919.

Citation details

A. H. Chisholm, 'Coxen, Henry William (1823–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 3

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