Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hughes, John Bristow (1817–1881)

by Sally O'Neill

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

John Bristow Hughes (1817-1881), by Thomas Foster Chuck

John Bristow Hughes (1817-1881), by Thomas Foster Chuck

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 10239

John Bristow Hughes (1817-1881), landowner, was the eldest son of John Hughes of Edge Hill, Lancashire, England, and his wife Maria, née Bristow. Hughes went to South Australia from India in 1839 and in 1841-42 leased land at Bundaleer, north of Burra. Impressed by the mid-north, he advised his younger brothers Herbert Bristow (1820-1892) and Bristow Herbert to join him. They took up land next to Bundaleer at Booyoolee and then moved to the site of Laura, a town named after Herbert's wife Laura, née White, whom he married in 1854. Later they had headquarters at Booyoolee and Herbert bought out his brother's interest in 1858. In 1870 he journeyed up the River Darling to inspect suitable properties and bought Kinchega from George Urquhart and the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank. Within a few years he had taken up runs totalling two million acres (809,380 ha) in an area extending from the River Darling to the Pinnacles near the South Australian border, in one place crossing what became the Broken Hill mining leases. In 1879 he had his own paddlesteamer and barge on the Darling. Herbert died at Adelaide in May 1892; his wife died in January 1909 aged 80.

At Bundaleer John Bristow made substantial improvements to the property and showed an interest in the welfare of the families of his men. By 1850 he had a house at Walkerville, Adelaide, and was writing often to the press on affairs of public interest. He was an active promoter of St Peter's Collegiate School. In 1853 he failed to win the seat of Light in the Legislative Council but in 1855 succeeded at East Torrens. He was a member for Port Adelaide in the first House of Assembly in 1857 and a warm supporter of (Sir) Robert Torrens, serving in his ministry as treasurer from 1-30 September. He resigned from parliament on 24 September 1858, soon sold Bundaleer to Charles Fisher for £32,000 and went to England. In London he wrote to The Times denouncing the prospectus of the Great Northern Copper Mining Co. and in June 1860 gave evidence in South Australia before the government's inquiry into the scandal. Daunted by the land regulations of the 1858 Land Act Hughes moved to Victoria where he took up Ganawarra and Pine Hills near Echuca and later bought Brung Brungie on the Wannon River near Coleraine. His cattle were badly hit by pleuro-pneumonia and about 1873 he returned to South Australia. In Victoria in 1869 he gave evidence before an inquiry into railway extensions.

In Adelaide Hughes busied himself with public matters. He twice failed to win a seat in the House of Assembly but continued to air his views in the press on subjects including St Peter's, railways, finance and anti-ritualism. At Adelaide in 1876 he published South Australia: Its Position and Prospects—Letters by J. B. Hughes, Esq., on Railway Extension, Mr. Boucaut's Proposed Addition of £3,000,000 to its Public Debt, and on Payment of Members. He was prominent in the Church Association. In 1881 he visited the Western District of Victoria. At Point Lonsdale on 26 March he was drowned. His wife Margaret died three months later at Kent Town, Adelaide; they were survived by several children.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1967)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1860, 2 (83), 1864, 2 (213)
  • R. H. B. Kearns, ‘A Pioneer Pastoralist of the West Darling District: H. B. Hughes of Kinchega’ (unpublished paper, 1970, Broken Hill Historical Society, 21 pages, copy held on ADB file)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 2 Apr 1881
  • R. Cockburn, Nomenclature of South Australia (revised typescript, State Records of South Australia and State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Hughes, John Bristow (1817–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hughes-john-bristow-3812/text6049, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 November 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

John Bristow Hughes (1817-1881), by Thomas Foster Chuck

John Bristow Hughes (1817-1881), by Thomas Foster Chuck

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 10239