Hardacre, Herbert Freemont (1861–1938)

by G. N. Logan

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

Herbert Freemont Hardacre (1861-1938), politician, was born probably on 7 March 1861 at Dayton, Ohio, United States of America, son of English migrants James Hardacre, mechanic, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Butterfield. A veteran of Chartism and the Anti-Corn-Law League, his father fought for the North in the American Civil War. When he died in 1865, Herbert and his mother moved back to Keighley, Yorkshire, England. He supported her while still at school by part-time work in a worsted factory and left school at 9 to work full time in the mill. Trained as a butcher, he was second butcher on the troopship Catalonia during the Egyptian War of 1882.

Hardacre migrated to Queensland in the Nowshera in 1883 and roved Queensland and New South Wales for six years as a butcher. Sometimes unemployed, he became acutely aware of the uneven distribution of Australia's growing wealth which he believed was a consequence of land monopoly. In Sydney in 1886 he was in touch with the incipient land and labour reform movement which advocated the ideas of Henry George.

As secretary of the Brisbane Butchers' and the Brisbane Tramways Employees' unions in 1890-93, Hardacre participated in the Australian Labour Federation formed in 1890. Reading widely, he remained a disciple of Henry George and opposed further alienation of crown land. His famous gridiron map showing the extent of alienation possible under the revived land-grant railway scheme of Sir Thomas McIlwraith contributed to the election to the Legislative Assembly in 1893 of sixteen Labor members including himself as member for Leichhardt. While minister for lands and agriculture in Dawson's six-day Labor ministry of 1899, he began selecting agricultural land in County Denison. He relinquished part of this in the 1902 drought and the rest in 1906. On 30 April 1901 at Alpha he married with Anglican rites Alice Beatrice Maynard; they had three sons.

To his great disappointment Hardacre was appointed to public instruction instead of lands in the first Ryan ministry of June 1915. Despite wartime restrictions he began to reform vocational, secondary, health and rural education. Trade education was expanded and reorganized after 1915, rural schools introduced in 1917, and extra state scholarships gave easier access to secondary schools. Hardacre's detestation of child labour, his attempted abolition of homework, his introduction of seaside camps for rural children and his abolition of 'quarter money' reveal a compassion born of his own difficult childhood. Though a thorough and conscientious administrator, he sometimes seemed bumbling. Confronted by such controversial issues as sex education, wartime 'jingoism' in schools and proposals to teach political economy, he cautiously and methodically fostered public debate, used trial periods before deciding and sometimes then did nothing. Truth compared him to a man watching a train leave while debating which carriage to enter. Nevertheless his interest in the teaching of political economy led to government subsidies in 1915 for the new Queensland Workers' Educational Association and to the publication in 1926 of his The Dawn of Settlement in Australia.

Though a slow speaker and an unconvincing debater, Hardacre was respected in the House for his knowledge of parliamentary practice. Originally a supporter of conscription, he allowed himself to be persuaded by Ryan whose efforts to avoid a party split he loyally supported. He resigned from parliament on 23 October 1919 to join the Land Court as one of three judges created under the Crown Lands Act 1910-18. Immediately on his compulsory retirement in 1931, he unsuccessfully contested the Federal seat of Capricornia. He continued to speak and write on land issues until his death in Brisbane on 5 March 1938. He was buried in Bulimba cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • The Labour Government of Queensland (Brisb, 1915)
  • Administrative Actions of the Labour Government in Queensland 1915-23 (Brisb, c1924)
  • E. W. Culley, This Struggle (Melb, 1939)
  • D. J. Murphy, T. J. Ryan (Brisb, 1975)
  • Brisbane Courier, 29 Mar 1893, 15 May 1907
  • Queenslander, 23 Sept 1893
  • Truth (Brisbane), 25 Feb 1917
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 4 Sept 1919
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 11 Sept 1919
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 5 Mar 1938.

Citation details

G. N. Logan, 'Hardacre, Herbert Freemont (1861–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hardacre-herbert-freemont-6557/text11271, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 June 2016.

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

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