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Wilton Hack (1843–1923)

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Wilton Hack (1843-1923), by unknown photographer, 1923

Wilton Hack (1843-1923), by unknown photographer, 1923

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 33339

Wilton Hack (1843-1923), utopist, was born on 21 May 1843 at Echunga, South Australia, the second child of Stephen Hack and his wife Elizabeth Marsh, née Wilton (1815-1915). Stephen had migrated from Gloucester to South Australia in 1837 with his brother John Hack and went on to Sydney for cattle which he took to Adelaide in two batches. While his brother acquired land and a whaling station, Stephen stayed in Adelaide, busy with a large kitchen garden, dairy, livery stable and contracts for his working bullocks. He went to Gloucester in 1841 to see his parents and to marry, returning to Adelaide with his wife in 1842. Like his brother, Stephen became insolvent but was discharged in 1844. He recovered slowly by dint of hard work and careful management of stock and land. In 1857 he led an exploration into country north of Streaky Bay and found enough pasturage and water to justify government payment for the expedition. In 1873 he retired to Gloucester where he died aged 78 on 14 May 1894.

Wilton was sent to his Quaker grandparents in Gloucester and educated at Sandbach Grammar School, Cheshire, and the University of Heidelberg. He joined his father at Long Desert station east of the River Murray bend and soon took up Pinnaroo station but had to abandon it in the 1865-67 drought. He became a drawing master in Adelaide schools and on 10 May 1870 married Anna Maria, daughter of George Stonehouse, Baptist minister. Determined on a life of service 'in fields not tended by others', he began visiting prisoners at Yatala gaol. In 1873 he went to Japan as a missionary. Language problems and military unrest cramped his activities so he hired a translator, bought a printing press and distributed thousands of religious tracts even to priests and officials. He gathered a few followers but ran out of funds. He became a teacher of English in a government school but was soon dismissed. In 1876 he visited Adelaide where he negotiated with the government for the admission of a few hundred Japanese families in the Northern Territory. Back in Japan he told the government that South Australia would provide free passages for the migrants but this was promptly denied in Adelaide and the whole project was rejected by the Japanese authorities.

Hack returned to Australia in 1878. He floated several gold mines in New South Wales with some success. In South Australia at Mount Remarkable he attempted a socialistic village settlement for the unemployed. Attracted to theosophy, he visited India and Ceylon several times studying eastern religions, on which he wrote and lectured. In 1890 he went to England to promote gold mines in Western Australia but had to borrow from his father for his return fare to Adelaide. He settled at Glenelg and devoted himself to painting in oils and water-colours until his only daughter married and his wife died. Two of his sons moved to Western Australia and in 1915 he visited them. A serious accident prevented his return and 'in consequence of the kindness bestowed on him by his nurse', Minnie Alice Wierk, he married her on 26 April 1916. Hack died at Beverley, Western Australia, on 27 February 1923, leaving small legacies to his four surviving children and some £1500 to his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cross, ‘Wilton Hack and Japanese Immigration into North Australia’, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, vol 61, 1959-60, pp 55-59
  • Votes and Proceedings (South Australia), 1857-58 (156)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 Mar 1923
  • Hack family letters, 1488 (State Records of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Hack, Wilton (1843–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Wilton Hack (1843-1923), by unknown photographer, 1923

Wilton Hack (1843-1923), by unknown photographer, 1923

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 33339

Life Summary [details]


21 May, 1843
Echunga, South Australia, Australia


27 February, 1923 (aged 79)
Beverley, Western Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.