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Hingston, James (1830–1902)

by D. R. Walker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

James Hingston (1830-1902), notary public and travel writer, was born in 1830 in London, son of John Hingston, cabinet-maker, and his wife Sarah. James's elder brother was Edward Peron Hingston (d.1876), the essayist and friend and editor of the American humorist, Artemus Ward. As a 'mere lad', James became an office boy and soon moved to employment by an attorney, augmenting his meagre wages by night work in a newspaper office. In 1852 he arrived in Victoria aboard the Cleopatra and proceeded to the Mount Alexander goldfields, where he was largely unsuccessful. After six months he returned to Melbourne to establish a law agency and patent business in Chancery Lane, which he ran all his life, later in partnership with Alfred Ford.

An astute investor, Hingston benefited from the spectacular growth of 'marvellous Melbourne'. He became the largest single investor in Melbourne Tramway shares, which at the height of the boom in 1888 were estimated to be worth more than £250,000. After the crash of 1891-92, and despite his still considerable wealth, he referred to himself as a ruined man.

Gaining a well-earned reputation for eccentricity, Hingston never married and lived for over thirty years at the George Hotel, St Kilda, amid large piles of books and papers in his bedroom. An indefatigable reader, he knew Shakespeare's plays almost by heart and was considered one of Melbourne's great raconteurs. His impact was the more remarkable for his unconventional views and fierce disregard for the dropped 'h', signing himself 'Jay Haitch' in letters to close friends. He came to the notice of the reading public as a travel writer, contributing to a Guide for Excursionists from Melbourne Dedicated to All in Search of Health, Recreation and Pleasure (1868) and co-authored Lorne: The Australian Torquay (1879) with William Little of Ballarat.

Hingston's travels abroad dated from the mid-1870s. Returning to London he was overwhelmed by the beauties of eastern scenery in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He left the steamer and, having discovered the pleasures of travelling light, sent his weighty portmanteaus back to Melbourne. Continuing his travels through India, the Middle East, Japan, China, Cochin-China, Malacca, Singapore and Java, he wrote a chapter of travel impressions at each destination.

The Melbourne Argus cautiously experimented with fortnightly publication of Hingston's articles under the title 'Travel Talk' by 'J.H.'. When in 1879-80 a London publisher brought out his essays as The Australian Abroad: Branches from the Main Routes Round the World, in two handsome, but expensive, volumes, Hingston's reputation as a brilliant, new writer was assured. William Inglis & Co., Melbourne, published a single volume edition of The Australian Abroad in 1885. Hingston's witty and richly allusive meditation on travel and the human condition was an immediate success and remained a remarkable record of Asian travel.

Through the 1880s and 1890s, Hingston continued his contributions to the Argus but no further books appeared under his name. Sojourning in England, he died on 7 March 1902 at Littleham, Exmouth, Devon, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery, London, with his parents and brother. His estate in Victoria was valued for probate at more than £50,000, with the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum a major beneficiary.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Walker, Anxious Nation (Brisb, 1999)
  • Table Talk, 24 July 1885, p 4, 10 Apr 1902, p 3
  • British Australasian, 13 Mar 1902, p 454
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Mar 1902, p 4
  • Sydney Mail, 15 Mar 1902, p 657
  • Bulletin, 22 Mar 1902, p 13, 20 Aug 1930, p 2.

Citation details

D. R. Walker, 'Hingston, James (1830–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hingston-james-12983/text23465, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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