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Flood, Edward (1805–1888)

by R. W. Rathbone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Edward Flood (1805-1888), by unknown photographer

Edward Flood (1805-1888), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 08227

Edward Flood (1805-1888), builder, pastoralist and politician, was born on 24 June 1805 in Sydney, illegitimate son of Joseph Flood, an Irish convict. He had little schooling, was apprenticed as a carpenter and became a building contractor. On 22 May 1826 at St James's Church he married Charlotte, daughter of Reuben Hannam, ex-convict. By the early 1840s Flood had acquired real estate in the city and the schooner Marion Wave. In 1841 he was a director of the Mutual Fire Insurance Association and bought Narrandera station, 76,000 acres (30,756 ha), the start of his pastoral empire. In 1842 he became an alderman in the first city council. Next year he was appointed a magistrate but was fined £50 for striking John Holden who had called the councillors 'idiots'. In 1844-45 Flood joined the Sydney District Council, and in 1849 was mayor of Sydney and a founder of the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts. A committee member of the Benevolent Society from 1844, he fought in July 1850 for improved conditions for the inmates, asserting that he would not 'herd so many pigs into the same space'. He also advocated the extension of the city franchise to all householders.

Radical in politics, Flood supported William Charles Wentworth in the 1843 election for the Legislative Council but later broke with him. An opponent of renewed transportation, he employed two convicts from the Hashemy but later denied it. In 1850 he suggested abolishing governorships, perhaps because his refusal to toady to 'autocrats' had brought him into conflict with Sir Charles FitzRoy. In 1851-56 Flood represented the North-Eastern Boroughs in the Legislative Council and belonged to the native-born faction. His political friendship with James Martin and Henry Parkes began before responsible government. In 1856-57 Flood held the North-Eastern Boroughs in the Legislative Assembly and supported Charles Cowper and John Robertson. In 1858-59 he represented the South Riding of Cumberland and Canterbury in 1859-60. On 1 October 1859 he became Cowper's secretary for public works but the government fell on the 26th. In a poem, 'Conscience and Flood', in the Southern Cross he was savagely accused by William Forster of being 'bought by place and pay' and of treachery to his friends. In return Flood was a fiery critic of Forster's government until he resigned from parliament on 13 January 1860. In 1861 Flood joined the committees of the Society for the Suppression of Cattle-Stealing and the Agricultural Society of New South Wales.

In pastoral affairs Flood was conservative and complained to Parkes that 'we are now quite at the Mercy of the Labouring Classes'. Flood's landholdings are somewhat obscure but by 1851 he seems to have held runs in the Clarence River district, over 650,000 acres (263,049 ha) on the Lower Darling in addition to Narrandera and runs in the Lachlan district. In the late 1840s, probably with inside knowledge, he offered high tenders for leases on the Lachlan held by James Tyson who had to buy them back for a large sum. By 1866 Flood had sold most of his runs in the Riverina but had acquired twenty-five other runs in New South Wales, one in partnership with Tyson. With Samuel Gordon he held runs of nearly 800 square miles (207200 ha) on the Maranoa and Warrego Rivers in Queensland. By 1871 he held thirty-one runs in New South Wales and with partners eighteen in Queensland; he was also sole owner of Gowrie station (Charleville). In 1875-76 he sold a 'large amount of property' but still held Narrandera, Quambone, Nimben and other runs. In the 1860s Flood built the Blackwall wool stores on Circular Quay and set up a wool-pressing business in Sydney. He also built the first flour-mill on the Murrumbidgee at Gundagai. He was a director of four insurance companies, chairman of the Queensland Steam Navigation Co., a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales and later a director of two mining companies.

In politics Flood had continued to correspond with Parkes and in August 1868 criticized the arbitrary power of the chief engineer over contractors for government railways. In October he tried to prevent the dismissal of William Duncan by the colonial treasurer, Geoffrey Eagar. When Eagar returned his letter unopened, Flood published the correspondence in the Sydney Morning Herald. In December 1869 he was returned to the Legislative Assembly for Central Cumberland after an election scene when he and Parkes were followed 'by hootings and howlings, which plainly indicated the nationality of his assailants'. In the Herald Flood complained of the Irish electors; next year the Freeman's Journal accused him of 'a total disregard to the interests of all religion' when he suggested the amalgamation of Roman Catholic and Protestant orphanages. He was defeated in 1872 and again in 1874 when he claimed that 'nearly all the Irish vote was against me', but hoped that he would not lose the friendship of William Bede Dalley. He refused to contest another seat. He visited England twice in the 1870s and America in 1878.

Tough and self-made, Flood won repute for 'a uniform course of honourable conduct' but he could be a very hard man in business, He could send Parkes a 'Bottle of the best Irish Whisky', yet leave his wife to die in poverty on 5 May 1879 at Newtown. For years he lived with Jane Oatley, until she died in 1884, and her three children. He died on 9 September 1888 and was buried in the Oatley vault in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by five sons and three daughters of his legal wife. His will left his youngest son, Joseph Washington, and two Oatley sons residuary legatees to £428,000, and was challenged by his other children on the ground that it 'was obtained by undue influence and fraud' by the Oatleys.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 2 (Syd, 1889)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Nov 1843, 22, 31 July, 19 Aug, 9, 10, 16, 18 Sept 1844, 26, 27 Feb, 23 July, 6, 13 Aug 1850, 14, 17, 19 Oct 1868
  • Southern Cross (Sydney), 8 Oct 1859
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 11 Dec 1869, 9 Apr 1870
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 11 Sept 1888
  • Town and Country Journal, 15, 22 Sept 1888
  • J. Gormly, Reminiscences, vol 3 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript and printed catalogue under Edward Flood (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

R. W. Rathbone, 'Flood, Edward (1805–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/flood-edward-3541/text5463, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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