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John Eales (1799–1871)

by Elizabeth Guilford

This article was published:

John Eales (1799-1871), grazier and pioneer pastoralist, was born on 28 March 1799, at Ashburton, Devonshire, England, the son of John Eales, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Leaman. The name Eales dated back to Norman times, the family seat being Berry Pomeroy Castle at Totnes, Devonshire.

Deciding to emigrate to New South Wales, Eales applied to Earl Bathurst, a family friend, for rights to select land in the colony, which he received on 24 October 1822. He arrived at Hobart Town on 19 August 1823 in the Francis, with letters of introduction to Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. After a brief stay he went to Sydney and thence to the Hunter River district, where he selected his grant of 2100 acres (850 ha) about four miles (6.4 km) from Morpeth. With the aid of one servant, 'Jim-the-Londoner', he cleared some 200 acres (81 ha) and planted it with wheat. The estate, which he named Berry Park, soon became one of the finest in the district and by 1831 was yielding an annual return of 10,000 bushels. Trouble with rats forced him to build giant iron tanks to hold grain, possibly the first silos used in the colony.

Soon afterwards his interest turned to grazing, and in the 1830s he acquired by purchase and squattage a number of runs on the Liverpool Plains, the largest being Walholla and Queepolli. In the early 1840s he became the pioneer pastoralist of the Maryborough district, although it is doubtful that he himself ever visited the area. About 1842 he sent his superintendent, Joliffe, on an expedition to the area north of Moreton Bay to report on the suitability of land for sheep and cattle grazing. Joliffe explored the country around Wide Bay and sent glowing reports. Impressed with his findings, Eales bought some 20,000 sheep and authorized his superintendent to take up a large amount of land on his behalf. Joliffe established a head station at Tiaro, some twenty miles (32 km) south of the present Maryborough, and out-stations at Gigoomgan and Owanyilla. In March 1843 Dr S. Simpson, commissioner of crown lands, visited these stations and in his journal spoke favourably of them. Soon afterwards Joliffe began to have trouble with attacks by Aboriginals on sheep and shepherds. In June 1844 the Sydney Morning Herald noted that Eales had been forced to send most of his sheep to Moreton Bay because, although the land to the north was excellent for grazing, difficulties with Aboriginals and supplies prevented its profitable occupation. A month later many of his sheep were seized by the commissioner for crown lands at Moreton Bay to enforce payment of a large sum due for assessment, but later the claim was withdrawn. After some years Eales had to abandon the northern stations altogether.

At the end of the 1830s Eales turned his attention to the development of shipping services in the north. Alarmed at the uncertain and irregular shipping between Morpeth and Sydney, and its effect on exports from the Maitland district, he convened a meeting of interested parties in Sydney in July 1839 to discuss the formation of a new shipping line. As a result the Hunter River Steam Navigation Co. was established with a capital of £40,000 in two thousand shares of £20, Eales being a principal shareholder and a director. Almost immediately an order was placed with Fairbairn & Co., shipbuilders of England, for three steamers. These ships, the Rose, the Shamrock and the Thistle, began services between Morpeth and Sydney in the 1840s. In 1841 Eales built a dry dock for the use of the company's vessels, on the river at the base of his property. Ten years later the company was incorporated as the Australian Steam Navigation Co., with Eales still on the board of directors.

At the beginning of the 1840s, he established a boiling down works at Berry Park. In August 1844 the Sydney Morning Herald claimed that he was a pioneer in boiling down on his own property instead of sending sheep and cattle to public establishments for treatment. Although the prevailing feeling in the colony was against the importation of coloured labour, Eales brought out a number of Chinese to work on his estate, and in 1842 his name appeared as a member of an association formed to promote the immigration of Indian labourers to the colony. In 1844 he was one of a number of graziers who protested vigorously against the new squatting regulations of Governor Sir George Gipps. As a result of a public meeting held in Maitland in April 1844 he was appointed to a district committee who drew up a petition for an inquiry into the system of letting lands beyond the boundaries, and the means of imposing and collecting tax on cattle and sheep in these districts.

About this time coal was discovered on his estate. Recognizing the possibilities of the youthful coal-mining industry, he began mining near Minmi in defiance of the Australian Agricultural Co.'s monopoly. Within several years he was exporting large quantities of coal from the Duckenfield collieries, and in 1848 the Sydney Gas Co. chartered the Currency Lass to carry his coal to Sydney. By an Act of parliament Eales and his partner Christie gained official sanction to build a railway line connecting the mines with the Hunter River at Hexham. About 1859 Eales sold the mine and railway to the brothers, James and Alexander Brown.

In company with many other large landed proprietors, Eales suffered from the effects of the depression in the early 1840s but soon made good his losses. He had more than 16,000 acres (6475 ha) of freehold in the Maitland district and some twenty stations in New South Wales. In 1853-54 he sold many of these stations and a number of his suburban allotments. About this time he began building a mansion on the Duckenfield estate. The mansion, Duckenfield Park House, was completed and enlarged by his son John.

Throughout his life, Eales was actively interested in horse-racing, and as early as 1833 had organized the first race meeting held in the Hunter River district. At Duckenfield he made a private race-course and bred blood stock. He died at Duckenfield on 1 April 1871. Known to many as the 'One-Man-Settler', Eales was reputedly one of the wealthiest men in New South Wales. A man of great versatility and independence, everything he touched seemed to prosper.

He had married Jane Eleanor Grisley, née Lavers, at Upper Paterson in February 1828 and had five children. One son, John Eales junior (1831-1894), became a noted breeder of blood stock, and in 1880-94 was a member of the Legislative Council.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 10
  • G. E. Loyau, The History of Maryborough (Brisb, 1897)
  • W. J. Gould, ‘The Port of Newcastle’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 24, part 1, 1938, pp 43-73
  • F. McKinnon, ‘Early Pioneers of the Wide Bay and Burnett’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland) vol 3, no 2, Oct 1940, pp 90-99
  • F. McKinnon, ‘Early Days of Maryborough’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 3, no 6, Dec 1947, pp 473-84
  • Maitland Mercury, 19 Nov 1853, 4 Apr 1871, 7 Jan 1933, 10 Aug 1936
  • Indian labour, 1842 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • S. Simpson, Journal of an Excursion to the Bunya Country, Governor's dispatches, 1844 (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Elizabeth Guilford, 'Eales, John (1799–1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 March, 1799
Ashburton, Devon, England


1 April, 1871 (aged 72)
Duckenfield, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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