Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hugo, William Marks (1828–1904)

by R. M. Gibbs

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

William Marks Hugo (1828-1904), by unknown photographer, 1886

William Marks Hugo (1828-1904), by unknown photographer, 1886

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6229

William Marks Hugo (c.1828–1904), missioner and founder of the Bushmen's Club, was born at East Ham, Essex, England, son of Trevanion Pyle Hugo and his wife Mary Anne, née Marks. The writer Victor Hugo was a distant relation. William went to sea when young and was a purser's steward in 1842. After service in the Crimean War he worked for three years in a store at New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America. He read much. Outspoken, and with the civil war looming, he moved to Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where his elder brother lived. Relations there judged him a 'brilliant genius'; his nephew noted his 'breezy manner, rather engaging personality, and general look of brightness and smartness'.

In 1861 Hugo left for Liverpool, England, and then travelled to Queensland, where he experienced a religious conversion. Concealing his past and known only as 'William', for some years he tramped the outback as a missionary; on prodigious journeys in South Australia and beyond he carried only a swag and a little water, relying on others for sustenance and shelter. He occasionally rested at the Mount Remarkable station of J. H. Angas who, with his father George Fife Angas, had supported a bush missionary society and William's work.

By 1866 a ravaging northern drought accelerated the need to succour bush workers, who were often victims of their own excesses and were preyed upon between jobs. Hugo pressed for a 'bushmen's home', like a seamen's home, as a quiet, sober refuge. Opposition came from those who saw it as a squatters' movement, but his canvassing, bushmen's subscriptions and philanthropic support enabled the home to open in Whitmore Square, Adelaide, in May 1870. The Bushmen's Club included dormitories, reading room and labour office. Initially, Hugo was unpaid as superintendent. Charges were moderate, notices read: 'Swearing, drunkenness, and gambling strictly prohibited' and amusements inside and games outside were provided. In 1871 the Angases helped towards outright purchase and, with a new dormitory proposed, the government voted £500.

Despite the emergence of a new pastoral regime, requiring less labour, within two years the home had 700 members and a savings bank branch; another dormitory, government subsidies, a post office and dog kennels became features. Hugo published a History of the First Bushmen's Club in the Australian Colonies in 1872. Next year he advocated an inebriates' retreat for Adelaide and in 1876 published rules for health. After he married 18-year-old Mary Hanna Fisher on 23 January 1877 at St Paul's Church of England, Adelaide, he accepted a club salary. A new central building opened in 1879. But lack of funds hampered the home, and in 1880 his 'pale, care-worn face of rather massive features' wore a resigned expression. Religious observances had been discontinued; government subsidies stopped. The club, not in Adelaide's centre and affected by mining rushes, declined. In January 1899, the Salvation Army having bought the premises, Hugo reflected that bushmen were fewer and changed in type.

In 1885 his lengthy work, The Origin and Antiquity of Freemasonry, was published in Adelaide. He died of gastroenteritis on 7 February 1904 at his Goodwood home and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. His wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R and F. Hill, What We Saw in Australia (Lond, 1875)
  • H. Hussey, More than Half a Century of Colonial Life and Christian Experience (Adel, 1897)
  • H. T. Burgess, John Howard Angas (Adel, 1905)
  • J. B. Hirst, Adelaide and the Country 1870-1917 (Melb, 1973)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 19 Dec 1874, p 6, 1 Jan 1876, p 11, 8 Jan 1876, p 8, 22 July 1876, p 6, 12 June 1880, p 978, 26 June 1880, p 1077, 7 Jan 1899, p 29
  • South Australian Register, 20 Dec 1884, p 5, 23 Dec 1885, p 7, 23 Dec 1886, p 4, 13 Feb 1922, p 8, 15 Feb 1922, p 9, 17 Feb 1922, p 9, 6 July 1922, p 8
  • private information.

Citation details

R. M. Gibbs, 'Hugo, William Marks (1828–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hugo-william-marks-12997/text23493, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 December 2017.

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

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

William Marks Hugo (1828-1904), by unknown photographer, 1886

William Marks Hugo (1828-1904), by unknown photographer, 1886

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6229