Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Hague, William (1864–1924)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

William Hague (1864-1924), by unknown photographer

William Hague (1864-1924), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 4537

William Hague (1864-1924), storekeeper and politician, was born on 8 March 1864 at Angaston, South Australia, eldest son of James Hague, storekeeper, and his wife Patience, née Taylor. James, the son of a Congregationalist minister in Manchester, England, had migrated to South Australia in 1855. He opened general stores at Angaston, Truro and Sedan in partnership with his brother Edward, and represented Barossa in the House of Assembly from 1890 to 1902.

William was educated at Rev. James Leonard's private school at Angaston. After five years in the shipping and customs section of an Adelaide warehouse, he entered the family firm in 1885 and, when it was restructured in 1902, took charge of the Angaston store, trading as Wm. Hague & Co. from 1904. He expanded the business by buying and marketing considerable quantities of wheat, dried fruits and dairy produce. As secretary of the local agricultural society he organized Angaston's annual show. He became chairman of the Angaston District Council, president of the local nursing and benevolent society, the literary society and other groups, and master of the Barossa Masonic Lodge.

Elected to the House of Assembly in 1912 as one of the members for Barossa, Hague was soon appointed to the Standing Committee on Railways and became its chairman in 1918. This committee exposed scandals in railway management and checked the mania for building uneconomic 'developmental' lines which had saddled South Australia with relatively high interest bills and taxation. Newspapers hailed him as 'one of the few honest politicians'. Although he criticized some of the policies of fellow Liberals A. H. Peake and Sir Richard Butler, he was elected chairman of the coalition parties in 1917 and of the parliamentary wing of the Liberal Union in 1919; in April 1920 Peake offered him office as commissioner of public works, minister of railways and minister of industry. On Peake's death a few days later, the new premier, (Sir) H. N. Barwell, confirmed Hague in these posts and fully supported his proposals for a mammoth reorganization and rehabilitation of the railways, carried out by a new chief commissioner, W. A. Webb. Hague also sponsored water conservation, irrigation and better methods of road-making. In November 1922 he exchanged the works portfolio for the Treasury. He doubled the allowances for dependent children and legislated to end the tax exemption for interest on government bonds, arguing that it had unfairly benefited the rich. He retained his seat when Labor won the 1924 elections.

Hague died from cerebro-vascular disease at Henley Beach on 9 October 1924. He was given a state funeral and buried in Mitcham cemetery with Congregational rites. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth Maud, née Weller, whom he had married at Norwood on 3 December 1885, and by a son and two of their three daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at £9120.

'Painstaking rather than brilliant', Hague was a lovable and humane politician. During World War I he resisted legislation designed to degrade the many South Australians of German ancestry. As a minister he had some success in preventing further parliamentary discrimination against Aboriginals, maintaining that many were 'really decent fellows, and I do not think a slur should be cast upon them'. Yet he tended to view issues with a businessman's eye, and was fond of remarking that 'the pioneers had succeeded through energy and industry, and not through strikes and a go-slow policy'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • R. I. Jennings, W. A. Webb, South Australian Railways Commissioner, 1922-1930 (Adel, 1973)
  • Critic (Adelaide), 18 June 1919
  • SA Freemason (Adelaide), 10 Nov 1924
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 25 Sept 1915
  • Observer (Adelaide), 19 Aug 1916
  • Evening Journal (Adelaide), 29 Aug 1918
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 2 Feb 1924
  • Register (Adelaide), 10, 11 Oct 1924
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 12 Oct 1923, 10, 11 Oct 1924
  • Barossa News, 16 Oct 1924
  • Hague papers, PRG84 and A441 (State Records of South Australia)
  • family papers.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Hague, William (1864–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hague-william-6518/text11189, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018