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John Hart (1809–1873)

by Sally O'Neill

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John Hart (1809-1873), by Townsend Duryea

John Hart (1809-1873), by Townsend Duryea

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11134

John Hart (1809-1873), mariner, merchant and parliamentarian, was born on 25 February 1809 in England. He went to sea at 12 and visited Hobart Town in September 1828 as a seaman in the Magnet. In November 1829 as second mate in the Britannia he went to Western Australia and then became well acquainted with the southern coast from Perth to Sydney. In 1832 he was master of the Elizabeth, owned and built by John Griffiths at Launceston, and often visited Kangaroo Island to land and pick up sealers and collect seal and wallaby skins and salt. In 1833 he took Edward Henty from Launceston to Portland and returned with whale oil. He then went to New Zealand for pine and potatoes, visited Kangaroo Island, sailed up Gulf St Vincent and stood on the future site of Adelaide. In 1835 he went to England to buy a ship for Griffiths and supplied the South Australian Colonization Commission with information and Colonel William Light with sailing directions. Hart sailed in the Isabella with John Hack and family as passengers and arrived at Launceston on 1 January 1837. He soon left for Adelaide with livestock for Hack but on a second voyage the Isabella was wrecked off Cape Nelson. When Hack heard of the disaster he gave Hart two acres (.8 ha) in Adelaide and invested £1500 in a schooner which Hart used as a coastal trader. In 1839 he joined Hack and other partners in a whaling venture at Encounter Bay and managed it for £500 a year; Hack was bankrupted in 1841 and Hart later engaged him as an accountant. With Jacob Hagen and John Baker Hart ran the whaling station in 1842-46 and as his fortunes recovered he bought larger ships. He twice visited Britain and in 1845 married Margaret Gillmor Todd of Dublin.

Hart retired from the sea in 1846 and settled in Adelaide. He bought and leased land in various parts of the colony, ran cattle and acted as agent for absentees. He also invested in copper mines at the Burra, Paringa and Montacute in 1845, Princess Royal and Mount Remarkable in 1846 and Yorke's Peninsula in 1848. He was also a director of the Forest Iron Smelting and Steam Sawing Co. at Cox's Creek and a copper-smelting venture at Port Adelaide, but lost heavily on mineral land at North Kapunda. In 1860 he was deeply involved in the Great Northern Copper Mining scandal but was exonerated after inquiry. In 1849 he had helped to form the short-lived Adelaide Marine Association Co. and the company intending to build a railway from Adelaide to the port; later he bought shares in the National and the Union Banks. Perhaps his best-known achievement was at Port Adelaide where in 1855 he built a flourmill with twice the grinding capacity of any other in the province, believing that South Australia was to be the granary of the continent.

Hart was elected in 1851 to the Legislative Council for the district of Victoria, resigned in 1853 to visit England and was re-elected in 1854. In the House of Assembly he represented Port Adelaide in 1857-59 and 1862-66, Light in 1868-70 and the Burra in 1870-73. He was treasurer under Baker in 1857, Hanson in 1857-58, (Sir) Henry Ayers in 1863 and in 1864, and (Sir) Arthur Blyth in 1864-65. He was chief secretary under Francis Dutton in July 1863 and led his own ministries in 1865-66, 1868 and 1870-71 when he introduced the title of premier. As a councillor he had been a moderate conservative but in the assembly he developed into a tough politician, pleasant enough but something of a schemer. His greatest interests were port and shipping charges. He violently opposed government railways and later advocated their sale, declaring that the only duties of parliament were to protect the country from foreign aggression or internal disorders and provide for the administration of justice and the protection of property. He opposed government borrowing and provision of water and drainage. By 1862 he was in favour of direct taxation of property on condition that free trade displaced customs duties. He maintained that education should not be free as knowledge was not appreciated unless paid for, and advocated a direct tax for secular education. He claimed that public service was a privilege and an honour, and that members should be paid for time lost in private pursuits rather than the value of services rendered. He had brought in a shipload of coolies in 1853 and continued to advocate migration from India and China as well as from Britain, especially after 1863 when South Australia took over the Northern Territory.

While Hart was in office he planned George Goyder's survey expedition and carried the bill for the overland telegraph to Darwin although he criticized its route through Port Augusta. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1870 and died suddenly on 28 January 1873 while chairing a meeting in Adelaide. He was survived by his wife and a large family, to whom he left an estate valued at more than £50,000. A son, John, represented Port Adelaide in the House of Assembly in 1880-81.

Select Bibliography

  • G. D. Combe, Responsible Government in South Australia (Adel, 1957)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1967)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 24 Mar 1853
  • W. H. Baynes, John Hart: The Public Record, 1831 to 1872 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Adelaide 1961).

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Hart, John (1809–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 July 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

John Hart (1809-1873), by Townsend Duryea

John Hart (1809-1873), by Townsend Duryea

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 11134

Life Summary [details]


25 February, 1809


28 January, 1873 (aged 63)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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