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Jack Gordon Hides (1906–1938)

by James Sinclair

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Jack Gordon Hides (1906-1938), public servant and explorer, was born on 24 June 1906 in Port Moresby, Papua, second of the seven children of Horace Herbert Hides, head gaoler of Port Moresby Gaol, and his wife Helena Marie, née Shanahan. His limited formal education came from the Port Moresby European School (1911-17), Einasleigh State School, Queensland (1917), private tuition (1918-19) and Maleny State School, Queensland (1920). He was a Roman Catholic, a fine swimmer, a sprint runner and an amateur boxer.

In July 1925 Hides joined the Papuan Public Service as a cadet clerk and in May 1926 transferred to the magisterial branch of the Government Secretary's Department as a cadet patrol officer. Appointed patrol officer in February 1928, he became assistant resident magistrate, 2nd grade, in February 1934, serving in succession at Kambisi Police Camp, Cape Nelson, Kairuku, Kerema, Kikori, Daru, Buna Bay, Mondo Police Camp and Misima. He first demonstrated outstanding qualities of leadership and bushcraft on a series of patrols from Kerema in 1930-31 into the partially unexplored Kukukuku country. Later murder patrols from Daru, Kikori and Mondo extended his experience.

In 1935 Hides was personally chosen by Lieutenant-Governor Sir Hubert Murray to lead an expedition into the last large unexplored region of Papua, between the Strickland and Purari rivers. Patrol Officer Louis James O'Malley was his second-in-command. The patrol left Daru by water on 1 January 1935, ascended the Strickland to the Rentoul River junction, then followed the Rentoul to the limit of canoe travel. With ten police under Sergeant Orai and twenty-eight carriers, Hides and O'Malley then entered unknown country, crossing the great Papuan Plateau and the limestone barrier of the Central Range into the Tari basin. After a violent conflict with the wig-wearing Huri tribesmen, they passed on to the heavily populated Waga and Nembi River valleys. Attacked by bowmen, they went on to the Erave River and thence through the Samberigi valley to Kikori on 17 June. The patrol fought at least nine skirmishes and shot dead at least thirty-two tribesmen. One carrier and a police constable died from exposure and exhaustion. It was the last major exploratory expedition in Papua-New Guinea to be carried out without radio or aerial support. It completed the work of the Leahy brothers, J. L. Taylor and administration officers in the highland districts of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and proved that the dense populations found there extended into Papua.

Handsome, a fluent speaker and the epitome of the dashing explorer, Hides was the centre of intense publicity when he arrived in Sydney in August. He was widely criticized for the bloodshed, particularly after Ivan Champion and C. J. Adamson successfully completed their Bamu-Purari patrol in 1936 through the same general region without firing a shot. Sir Hubert Murray, however, praised both leaders, calling the Strickland-Purari patrol 'the most difficult and dangerous' ever carried out in Papua.

During the course of the patrol, Hides discovered traces of what he thought was gold in the upper reaches of the Strickland, and in July 1936 he resigned from the Papuan service. Backed by a Sydney company, Investors Ltd, he led a private prospecting expedition up the Strickland River in February 1937. His companion David Lyall became seriously ill with a stomach ulcer when the party was in sight of its goal. Forced to retreat to the coast with the dying Lyall, Hides lost five carriers from beri-beri in the Strickland Gorge and Lyall died at Daru on 17 September. Depressed and suffering from the effects of the journey, Hides returned to Sydney. He died of pneumonia on 19 June 1938 and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. At Liverpool, New South Wales, on 20 September 1932, he had married Margeurite Montebell Priestley; they had two children.

Though daring and courageous, Hides was sometimes rashly over-confident. The loss of men during several of his journeys might have been avoided by better planning and more caution. He wrote four successful books based on his experiences: Through Wildest Papua, Papuan Wonderland, Savages in Serge and Beyond the Kubea, the last published posthumously. Papuan Wonderland and Beyond the Kubea were reissued in 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Lett, Knights Errant of Papua (Lond, 1935)
  • G. Souter, New Guinea (Syd, 1968)
  • J. P. Sinclair, The Outside Man (Melb, 1969)
  • Commonwealth record series, G91, 97, 148, 212, 302, 346, 383, 559, AS 13/26/1, 3, 57, A 518, C 251/3/1, 852/4/100 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

James Sinclair, 'Hides, Jack Gordon (1906–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 June, 1906
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea


19 June, 1938 (aged 31)
Sydney, New South Wales, 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.