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Hungerford, Thomas (1823–1904)

by Ian Ellis

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

Thomas Hungerford (1823-1904), pastoralist and politician, was born in September 1823 at Cork, Ireland, son of Emanuel Hungerford, captain in the South Cork Militia, and his wife Catherine, née Loan(e). In May 1828 Captain Hungerford and his family arrived at Sydney in the Alexander Henry. In November he bought 1920 acres (777 ha) at Wallis Plains on the Hunter River and in December was granted 2560 acres (1036 ha) which he exchanged in 1833 for a similar grant on Baerami Creek. Thomas was educated in Maitland and in 1843 with his brothers took up Thungalier run on the west bank of the Barwon. In 1847 he became manager and in 1849 introduced the swinging gate for drafting cattle. In 1852 his father gave the Baerami grant to Thomas who married Emma Hollingsworth Wood on 19 June at St Mary's Church of England, West Maitland.

In 1857 Hungerford took up thirteen blocks on the Culgoa and about 1858 occupied Gnomery and Wyambah, 250,000 acres (101,172 ha) on the Warrego in Queensland, where he ran cattle. Hungerford on the New South Wales border was named after him. In 1860 at Baerami he successfully introduced ringbarking on a systematic scale into Australia. His example was followed by the neighbouring Whites and by 1870 the practice was general in the Hunter Valley. By 1877 Hungerford had 20,000 freehold acres (8094 ha) at Baerami and had greatly improved its carrying capacity. Over eighty tons of oranges were harvested annually and a flour-mill was built by the creek. In April 1872 his wife died, leaving him with ten children, and in August he married Catherine Mary Mallon. About 1875 he built a sandstone homestead for £5000.

Hungerford's election in June 1875 to the Upper Hunter seat in the Legislative Assembly was declared void in July and in August he tried in vain to defeat John McElhone. In 1877 he won Northumberland, one of the colony's most radical constituencies. He retired in 1880 to attend to his private business. In 1881 as Hungerford & Sons he took up three million acres (1,214,070 ha) in the Gulf country of Queensland and Cudelgo, 1500 square miles (3885 km²) in South Australia near the Queensland border. In 1882 he again represented Northumberland and in 1885-87 the Upper Hunter. He supported the Parkes-Robertson ministry but later voted for ad valorem duties. The Bulletin claimed that he was 'too high-minded to be manipulated' and that his 'breadth of ideas' and 'large experience' added to his legislative debating power.

Hungerford took a great interest in Aboriginals, learned their language and compiled a dictionary for his own use. He was known for his strong character and 'buoyancy of spirit in the face of difficulties'. By 1889 the Hungerfords owned or rented 3000 square miles (7770 km²) and ran over 50,000 cattle, but the depression of the early 1890s and the long drought sent their overdraft up to £250,000; by 1896 the Bank of New South Wales had taken over Baerami and the other stations. Hungerford died at Ashfield on 4 April 1904 and was buried in the Anglican cemetery, Enfield. He was survived by five sons and four daughters of his first wife and by his second wife, three sons and three daughters. Baerami was sold in 1905 and the estate wound up in 1915.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • E. Digby (ed), Australian Men of Mark, vol 1 (Syd, 1889)
  • I. Ellis, A History of the Baerami Creek Valley (Muswellbrook, 1970)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1875, 2, 275, 1875-76, 1, 769, 1883-84, 1, 260
  • Maitland Mercury, 1880-94
  • Bulletin, 11 Feb 1882
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Apr 1904
  • Town and Country Journal, 13 Apr 1904
  • Court of Claims case 428, 1835 (State Records of South Australia)
  • Surveyor-General records (State Records of South Australia)
  • manuscript catalogue under Emanuel Hungerford (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ian Ellis, 'Hungerford, Thomas (1823–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hungerford-thomas-3820/text6059, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 October 2018.

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

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