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Charles Edward Broadhurst (1826–1905)

by H. Drake-Brockman

This article was published:

Charles Edward Broadhurst (1826-1905), pioneer, squatter, pearler and merchant, was born at Manchester, England, son of Daniel Broadhurst and his wife Sarah, née Tootal, of the firm of Tootal, Broadhurst, Lee & Co., cotton manufacturers. He went to Victoria in the Amiga in 1843 to join his elder brother, Robert Henson, who had squatted at Swinton near Kilmore. In 1860 he acquired his own property at Wallan and on 22 June at Woodford Anglican Church he married Eliza, ninth child of Florance Howes and his second wife Eliza, née Graham and directly descended from William, third earl of Inchiquin. Accompanied by his bride, Broadhurst took two shipments of horses to India.

In 1864, inspired by the 1861 reports of Francis Gregory, the Denison Plains Co. was formed in Melbourne to pioneer grazing in the north of Western Australia. Enterprising and adventurous, Broadhurst sailed with his wife and two sons in the Warrior as leader of the first party of shareholders and superintendent of stock and stations for the company; the ship also carried 2100 sheep, 44 stud horses and 20 Hereford cattle. The party left Fremantle in May 1865, intending to land at Roebuck Bay; prevented by adverse winds they landed at Nickol Bay, where the majority acquired pastoral leases. No more company ships were sent from Melbourne and correspondence indicates that by June the company had dissolved. Broadhurst bought town blocks on the Harding River (Roebourne) and in 1866 obtained three grazing leases on the Ashburton River, which he held until 1873. That year he leased Faure Island in Hamelin Pool to expand his pearling interests.

Although W. T. Tays was probably the first notable pearler at Nickol Bay in 1867, Broadhurst was the first to expand systematically. In 1870 he bought and fitted a schooner for pearling and was granted Aboriginal prisoners for use as divers. He also acquired Heincke diving apparatus. In 1871 he visited Glasgow to buy the Xantho, 120 tons, said to be the first steamship to trade on the Western Australian coast. She foundered in January 1873 but by then her owner had shipped the first cargo of Shark Bay pearl-shell in the Ivy to Le Havre. In 1872 he had also applied for a lease at Mount Blaze for growing coconut and another on Delambre Island for gathering tortoise-shell, but neither project eventuated.

In 1874 Governor (Sir) Frederick Weld nominated Broadhurst to the Legislative Council, citing his first-hand knowledge of the north-west coast and its settlers, and claiming that he was 'the only person in the position who has abilities and leisure to represent them'. Broadhurst took up his seat in July 1874 but resigned in November 1875. In August, after a police report, Governor (Sir) Hercules Robinson had sent a magistrate, R. Fairbairn, to investigate pearling conditions at Shark Bay. Broadhurst was absent in Perth; without giving him notice of proceedings Fairbairn found against him for breach of agreement in claims made by eighteen Malay divers, and disposed of Broadhurst property to make a part-settlement. Broadhurst immediately took out a writ of certiorari; in the Supreme Court all eighteen cases were quashed on 12 January 1876.

Broadhurst next initiated a fish-canning industry at Mandurah and in 1884 was amongst the first successful applicants for guano leases on the historic Houtman Rocks (Abrolhos Islands). He employed a surveyor, erected much plant, and engaged forty Malays in permanent work. As one of the principal exporters, his name remains identified with the islands. He chartered many ships and constantly battled with the government for a reduction of the royalty payable on every ton of guano regardless of quality. He achieved a reduction, but failed in his 1890 offer of £4000 for the sole right to all Abrolhos leases. He early went into partnership, trading under the name of Broadhurst, McNeil & Co., guano merchants, but retained management until 1890 when the more than prosperous firm was handed over to the direction of his eldest son, Florance. Five years later he retired with his wife to England, where he lived in comfort at Bournemouth until his death on 26 April 1905. An obituary in the West Australian described him 'as one of the most indefatigable and persevering exploiters of the infant industries of W.A. in his day'.

His wife Eliza, born on 31 October 1839 at Clonmel, Ireland, was described as 'very talented'. Her elder daughter, Sarah Eleanor, was born on 18 July 1865 at the Harding River, the first white girl in the north-west. Eliza suffered privations with fortitude; displaying courage when, left alone in camp with her infants, she routed a molesting Aboriginal with gun-fire. In Perth she became active in musical circles and herself taught music at the Bishop's College (Hale School). In 1876 she opened a school of her own. She had four sons and two daughters. She died at Bournemouth on 2 August 1899. Family photographs show a handsome, determined pair well capable of the imaginative enterprise and drive that marked their activities in Western Australia.

Their eldest son, Florance Constantine, was born on 9 July 1861 at Kilmore, Victoria. Educated at the Perth government school, he shared the management of Broadhurst, McNeil & Co. while still in his twenties and took full control in 1890. The business expanded greatly, often paying more than £16,000 a year in royalties. Florance travelled widely, chartering ships and arranging world-wide sales. He also directed a large lightering company at Geraldton and took an interest in the gold-mining activities of the 1890s. Always interested in the remarkable bird life of the Abrolhos Islands, he did much to stimulate the attention of ornithologists and the general public. He became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a justice of the peace. Interested also in the historic associations of the islands with Dutch navigators of the seventeenth century, he aroused local response to a hitherto neglected field of investigation. Many Dutch relics from the islands were presented to the Victoria Public Library of Western Australia and later an original copy of the Jan Jansz 1647 edition of Ongeluckige Voyagie van't Schip Batavia. On 17 May 1892 Florance married Harriet, daughter of John Heslop of Murrayfield, Edinburgh; she was born on 28 February 1867. He died tragically on 19 February 1909, at Cottesloe, Western Australia, leaving three sons and three daughters. His wife died on 5 December 1935.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • L. C. Burges, Pioneers of Nor'west Australia (Perth, 1913)
  • A. R. Richardson, Early Memories of the Great Nor'west (Perth, 1914)
  • H. Drake-Brockman, Voyage to Disaster (Syd, 1963)
  • Perth Gazette, 5 May 1865
  • Inquirer (Perth), 14 Sept, 5 Oct 1870, 22 May 1872, 19 Jan, 1 Mar 1876
  • Herald (Fremantle), 6 Dec 1873
  • West Australian, 4 Mar, 29 July 1884, 9 Dec 1886, 8 Aug 1887, 24 May 1890, 1 May 1905, 22 Feb 1909, 19 July 1945
  • Bunbury Herald, 16 Oct 1897
  • J. E. Adams, Reminiscences of Early Days in Perth (State Library of Western Australia)
  • A. Weldon, Life and Work of Charles Edward Broadhurst (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Governors' dispatches, vol 12 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Survey department records, 1880-86 (State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • family records and information.

Citation details

H. Drake-Brockman, 'Broadhurst, Charles Edward (1826–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 19 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


26 April, 1905 (aged ~ 79)
Bournemouth, Dorset, England

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