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Hudson, Henry (1836–1907)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Henry Hudson (1836-1907), engineering contractor and manufacturer, was born in London, the eldest son of William Henry Hudson (1814-1882), builder and contractor of Plymouth, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Dugdale. His father migrated to New Zealand with his wife and family in 1839 and about 1843 moved to Sydney.

Henry was educated at Christ Church School, Sydney, and apprenticed to a joiner; he was first employed by his father who was contractor for the woodwork of the University of Sydney and St Andrew's Cathedral. He visited the Victorian diggings and in 1860 with his father established a small joinery works at Redfern; by July 1870 they employed eighty-seven men and boys. His brother Robert (1841-1915), William (1843-1891) and George (1848-1907) joined the firm and in 1876-77 Hudson Bros completed a government contract for two hundred railway wagons at £70 each. They also built passenger carriages and in 1881, after Henry visited the United States in connexion with bogie cars, began to produce them too. In 1881-86 Hudsons built the Coast (Prince Henry) Hospital and carried out many large contracts for timber and joinery. In July 1883 the rolling-stock plant was moved to Granville (Clyde). In the 1880s Hudson became chairman and managing director of a new company, Hudson Bros, which embraced the Redfern and Clyde workshops and sawmills at Pyrmont, Bathurst and the Myall Lakes. The company's report for 31 December 1883 revealed a net profit of £30,000. In 1884 they employed about 1000 hands, and incorporated the firm of Robert Ritchie of Parramatta and Wickham.

In 1885 the government accepted 'Hudson's Temporary Scheme' to ameliorate Sydney's grave water shortage. It required about 1100 men and was completed in January 1886 for about £78,000. The government was often criticized for accepting the contracts of Hudson Bros without calling for tenders, but the quality of their engineering was never questioned. Hudson Bros also manufactured mining, refrigerating and all types of agricultural machinery. In 1887 Hudson and other engineers were unsuccessful in securing government contracts for the manufacture of locomotives to alleviate a slump. Railway contracts fell away in the depressed 1890s but Hudson Bros kept going until 1898 when it was liquidated and a new firm, Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd, was formed on 30 September to take over the Granville works. Hudson later became general manager.

In 1874 Hudson was a founding trustee of the Equitable Permanent Benefit, Building, Land, and Savings Institution; he was a president of the Employers' Association and in 1889 a vice-president of the Free Trade Association. He became an alderman for Redfern in 1868 and mayor in 1873 and 1880. The government sought his opinion on municipal engineering and labour questions, and in November 1890 he served on the royal commission on strikes.

Aged 70 Hudson died from heart disease at his residence, Glenhurst, Darling Point, on 9 May 1907 and was buried in Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife Mary Ann, née Turner, whom he had married on 17 July 1858 at St Paul's Church, Redfern, and by three of his five sons and three of his six daughters. He left an estate of £12,000 with debts amounting to £19,000.

The Hudsons were important pioneers in the engineering and construction industries and their relations with labour were generally good, though they did not introduce the eight-hour day for fitters and turners until November 1882. Henry Lawson, who worked for them at Clyde in the 1880s for 30s. a week and at their Newcastle branch, praised them in his Fragment of Autobiography: 'Hudson Brothers were not Grinders. If they had been they mightn't have failed … They imported the best mechanics they could get, treated and paid them well … Their work for Australia deserves to be … credited to them'.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Hardy, Their Work was Australian (Syd, 1970)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, 5, 132, 1877-78, 4, 83, 1883-84, 5, 505, 1887-88, 6, 891
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1887, 245, 981
  • ‘Early Rolling Stock Builders. Hudson Brothers’, Bulletin (Australasian Railway and Locomotive Historical Society), vol 1, no 153, July 1950, pp 47-50
  • Town and Country Journal, 9 July 1870, 28 July 1883, 20 Sept 1884, 28 Mar 1885, 23 Mar 1889, 17 Oct 1891, 15 Oct 1898
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Sept 1870, 15 Apr 1881, 8 Nov 1882, 1 Oct 1887, 5 Oct 1892, 10, 18 May 1907, 16 Jan 1915
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 2 Sept 1882
  • Sydney Mail, 13 Dec 1884.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Hudson, Henry (1836–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hudson-henry-3810/text6045, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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