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Jones, Horatio Thomas (1870–1949)

by Celestina Sagazio

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

Horatio Thomas Jones (1870-1949), engineer, inventor and recluse, was born on 5 June 1870 at Naracoorte, South Australia, fifth child and posthumous son of Horatio Thomas Jones (d. November 1869), an insolvent storekeeper, and his wife Mary, née Cattanach, from Scotland. Mary Jones and her four surviving children soon moved to Victoria. She died at South Yarra in 1886. Before he was 20 Horatio had produced some inventions, including a model of a self-adjusting windmill, displayed at the Juvenile Industrial Exhibition in Melbourne on 28 March 1888, which won a silver medal. He served an apprenticeship for three years in a metal trade with the Atlas Co.

Described as an engineer, 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, weighing 10 st. 2 lb. (64 kg), with dark complexion, brown eyes, dark hair and a scarred face, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 17 May 1915, putting his age down to 43. He was allotted to the 23rd Battalion and landed at Gallipoli in August. In March next year he transferred to the 2nd Pioneers Battalion but after months in hospital was invalided to Australia in May. He was discharged in Melbourne on 23 November 1916 as totally and permanently incapacitated with cardiac problems and rheumatic fever.

In June 1916 Jones had reportedly persuaded his fiancée Caroline Hearst to end their engagement and return to the United States of America, as he feared he would not live much longer. He never married. Purchasing land at Tecoma in the Dandenongs, about 1920 he built for himself and his sisters Christina and Annie an extraordinary, two-storeyed house from bush timber, flattened 4-gallon (18-litre) kerosene tins and fencing wire. He created his own set of tools, levers and rollers, some of which remain in the building.

The house was an unusually grand and rare example of shanty construction in the early twentieth century. In contrast to the tin exterior, the elegant interior with antique furniture and fine furnishings illustrated the comfortable lifestyle maintained by the family under adverse conditions. The Union Jack hung over his four-poster bed. Jones's creativity and adaptiveness were also displayed in his inventions, which included a patent rabbit exterminator and a water wheel that generated power from the creek on the property.

Family legend paints Jones as a dashing man, who entertained the poet C. J. Dennis and the artist (Sir) Arthur Streeton at the property, but others remember him as a shy recluse. Predeceased by his sisters Annie (in December 1937) and Christina (in October 1945), Horatio died on 28 June 1949 at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Ferntree Gully cemetery. The National Trust of Australia classified his house in 1985 and it was added to the Register of Historic Buildings in 1993 and to the Register of the National Estate in 1996.

Select Bibliography

  • Shell Times, May 1985, p 5
  • Australian Country Style, Oct 1994, p 49
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Sept 1985, p 1, 16 Mar 1989, p 3, 12 Sept 1992, p 2, 8 Oct 1994, ‘Travel Vic’, p 3
  • Mountain District Free Press, 18 Sept 1985
  • Allom Lovell & Associates, Horatio’s House, 16 Blackwood Street, Tecoma, draft conservation management plan, Feb 2002 (Heritage Victoria, Melbourne)
  • Horatio Jones House file no. 5622, National Trust of Australia (Victoria), (East Melbourne).

Citation details

Celestina Sagazio, 'Jones, Horatio Thomas (1870–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-horatio-thomas-13013/text23527, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 July 2014.

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

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