Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hagen, Jacob (1809–1870)

by J. Gilchrist

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

Jacob Hagen (1805-1870), by unknown photographer, c1885

Jacob Hagen (1805-1870), by unknown photographer, c1885

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6288

Jacob Hagen (1809-1870), landowner and politican, was educated at Southgate, Middlesex, England. He arrived in South Australia in December 1839 in the William Barras. He brought capital with him and set up as woolgrower and shipping agent, but mainly as a moneylender. As a late-comer he had to pay dearly for his land and sheep, but made up for this in the depression years. He bought a large part of the debentures issued by Governor (Sir) George Grey and became the government's chief creditor. One of his clients was his old schoolmate and fellow Quaker, John Hack, whose whaling company at Encounter Bay was taken over by Hart, Hagen & Baker in 1842; as a committee the three partners reported to the Statistical Society in Adelaide on the value of the industry in attracting capital to the colony. Their oil topped the London market, but prices fell and the partners sold out after four years and turned to investment in copper mines. When Hack became bankrupt in 1843, Hagen as chief mortgagee foreclosed on his rich estate at Echunga Springs; from Hack's vineyard he produced some of the first wine in South Australia.

In 1843 Governor Grey appointed Hagen to the Legislative Council as a temporary non-official member pending decision on his eligibility as a Quaker. Influential friends in London made sure that his position was confirmed, but Grey came to rue his choice. With an infinite capacity for awkward questions and unrestrained assertions, Hagen opposed Grey's economics, attacking his customs duties and challenging him to give Adelaide a free port. As chairman of one public meeting he called Grey a swindler and refused to retract; reported to the Colonial Office, his crime was thought insufficient by Stanley to justify dismissal from the council. In 1844 Hagen and Baker charged Grey with 'extremely corrupt conduct' in rejecting their tender for copper-bearing land; their complaints to London resulted in Grey's transfer to New Zealand.

Always eager for quick returns, Hagen strongly supported moves to import Chinese coolies, reduce taxation and open new avenues of investment. As chief spokesman of the speculators, Hagen was warned by the press not to neglect his responsibilities in the Legislative Council by going overseas, but in May 1846 he was given leave to visit England in order to recruit miners and raise capital. He returned in July 1847 with proposals for a railway to Port Adelaide and renewed zest to fight for private enterprise. He was one of the proprietors of the Adelaide Mining Co. which, after refusing to pay royalties on its copper, triumphed in the Supreme Court in 1848. He won further public favour by proposing a limit of three years to Lieutenant-Governor Frederick Robe's ordinance for state aid to religion, but by 1850 his reputation as a reformer had vanished. He helped his pastoralist friends to retain their leases, yet as a member of the Destitute Board inveighed against the dependence of the poor on official charity. Unrepentant after his objection to elective district boards was denounced as 'class legislation of the most odious description', Hagen proceeded to support proposals for a colonial peerage and to oppose equal electorates and the destruction of ballot papers. He remained in the Legislative Council until it dissolved in February 1851 and failed to win a seat in the new part-elective council.

The failure of his London backers in 1850 severely restricted his business and he returned to England in 1853. Echunga Springs was left in charge of an agent whose letter-books were filled with grim stories of paralysing debt and pitiless penny pinching. The agent himself was once threatened with foreclosure for failing to evict the widow and six children of a deceased tenant whose payments had not faltered for twelve years. With declining fortunes Hagen lived for some years at Ropley House, Alresford, Hampshire, where he died on 24 January 1870, leaving an estate of some £8000.

A widower when he arrived in the colony, Hagen married Mary Baker, the sister of his colleague and partner, on 23 January 1844 in St John's Church of England, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • F. S. Dutton, South Australia and its Mines (London, 1846)
  • RGSSA, Centenary History of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957)
  • G. Sanders letter book (State Records of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. Gilchrist, 'Hagen, Jacob (1809–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hagen-jacob-2141/text2723, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 January 2018.

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

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

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© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Jacob Hagen (1805-1870), by unknown photographer, c1885

Jacob Hagen (1805-1870), by unknown photographer, c1885

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6288