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Hack, John Barton (1805–1884)

by J. Gilchrist

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

John Barton Hack (1805-1884), by unknown photographer, c1870

John Barton Hack (1805-1884), by unknown photographer, c1870

State Library of South Australia, B 11158

John Barton Hack (1805-1884), farmer, merchant and accountant, was born on 2 July 1805 at Chichester, England, the eldest son of Stephen Hack, banker, and his wife Maria, née Barton. He was educated at Southgate, Middlesex, went into the leather trade and built up a successful business in Sussex. On 9 July 1827 he married Bridget Watson. After an illness affecting his lungs, he was advised to seek a warmer climate, and with his wife, six children and his younger brother he sailed in the Isabella for Launceston, where he spent a month buying livestock and equipment. He arrived at Holdfast Bay in February 1837. With immense energy he set out to make money in preparation for taking up farming when land became available. He was one of the first to put up a 'Manning' portable cottage in Adelaide and soon made rich earnings with his bullock wagon, garden and dairy; he also imported foodstuffs at good profit and arranged with store-keepers to dispose of his English merchandise. At the sale of land in Adelaide in March 1837 he bought sixty acre-lots (24 ha), and he served on the committee for naming the streets. For cutting the channel in the original Port Adelaide, he charged the government £800, double the price of his tender. His early jubilant letters to England were read by the emigration agent, Henry Watson, in a lecture on South Australia to the Chichester Mechanics' Institute in November 1837, and printed; but he had reverses. Three shipments of sheep from Launceston suffered heavy casualties; a fourth, to be paid for when landed, was entirely lost in the wreck of the Isabella and cost him £1400 when his agreement was challenged.

In 1838 Hack bought Blenkinsop's whaling station at Encounter Bay and squatted on the choicest land near Mount Barker with 400 cattle brought from Portland. Next year he was bundled off his cattle station to make room for the first special survey, taken by William Dutton and his partners. Hack promptly paid £4000 for an adjoining 4000-acre (1619 ha) special survey, Echunga Springs, where he made his home. He also took large shares in other special surveys. He sold some blocks at Echunga at £4 an acre and leased others to tenants. In his spacious garden he planted some of the colony's first vine cuttings and installed a windmill. By spending £17,000, he made Echunga Springs a valuable showpiece, with his crops, dairy and 1000 cattle. Other assets of £13,000 justified his claim to be the most active person in the colony, but the onset of depression in 1841 proved that he had overreached himself. His whaling station was taken by Hart, Hagen & Baker, and Hagen foreclosed on Echunga Springs.

Hack's later ventures were various and unsuccessful. After 1845 he had several drays carting ore from the Burra copper mine to Port Adelaide, and in 1848 a timber business. In 1850 he sought a government post in vain, and next year went to the Victorian goldfields; he returned with modest wealth and lost it in such enterprises as dairy-farming on the Coorong. Ill health forced him back to Adelaide in 1863 where he became general accountant to the railways in 1870 and controller of railway accounts in 1879. He resigned in 1883 and died next year on 4 October at his home in Semaphore. Of his eight sons and three daughters only Theodore earned public distinction: he became mayor of Port Adelaide and of Semaphore and in 1890-93 represented Gumeracha in parliament.

Hack was too soft-hearted to be a successful pioneer; he paid high wages, gave generous credits and neglected to cover himself. Although he became a Wesleyan Methodist he was a Quaker by upbringing; he befriended Aboriginals and ex-convicts, advocated temperance, presided over the Mechanics' Institute, looked after James Backhouse and George Washington Walker during their Adelaide visit, and gave land in Pennington Terrace for a Friends' meeting house.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Morphett, John Barton Hack: A Quaker Pioneer (Adel, 1943)
  • A. J. Perkins, ‘Progressive Centennial Development of the Pastoral and Agricultural Industries of South Australia, 1836-1936’, Journal of the Department of Agriculture of South Australia, vol 40, 1936-37, pp 393-403, 478-86, 549-61, 601-11, 685-92, 769-75, 829-41, 897-913, vol 41, 1937-38, pp 3-12, 115-28, 211-28, 307-25, 419-34, 515-37, 615-33, 699-713, vol 42, 1938-39, pp 103-27
  • Register (Adelaide), Apr, July, Aug, 1884
  • J. B. Hack, diary and other references (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

J. Gilchrist, 'Hack, John Barton (1805–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hack-john-barton-2139/text2719, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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