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Jens August Jensen (1865–1936)

by Quentin Beresford

This article was published:

Jens August Jensen (1865-1936), by unknown photographer, 1910s

Jens August Jensen (1865-1936), by unknown photographer, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24228771

Jens August Jensen (1865-1936), publican and politician, was born on 2 May 1865 at Sebastopol, Ballarat, Victoria, third son of Danish gold-rush immigrants, Anthon Jensen, carpenter, and his wife Anna Marie Christine, née Peterson. Educated at Ballarat, he left school at 11 to work as a stable-boy. When he moved to Beaconsfield, Tasmania, in 1878 he found employment as rabbit-hawker and miner; in 1893 he gained a certificate of service as a mining engine driver. On 1 July 1885 at Beaconsfield he married Elizabeth Frances Broadhurst with Primitive Methodist forms. She died in 1894 leaving him with one son and four daughters. On 18 August 1896 he married Bertha Hopton, a domestic servant, at the York Street Baptist Manse, Launceston. That year Jensen built a hotel and theatre at Beaconsfield and was so successful as a publican that he was able to invest the profits in a large establishment at Beauty Point. The Beauty Point Hotel was acclaimed as 'one of the best and prettiest country hotels in the colony'. Jensen, who also acquired an orchard in the district, was a member of the Beaconsfield Town Board in 1899 and became a justice of the peace in 1908.

In 1903 he won the House of Assembly seat of George Town, identifying himself with the 'Opposition' group of liberal-democrats led by W. B. Propsting. In 1906 he was re-elected for George Town as an endorsed Labor candidate and in 1909 was a member for Wilmot; in October when the Labor Party briefly held office he was chief secretary. Jensen left State politics in 1910 to stand successfully for the Federal seat of Bass. Described by Melbourne Punch a few years later as a 20-stone (127 kg) 'giant' with 'protuberant girth and wealth of watch-chain', he impressed observers with his easy, confident manner. He often spoke in support of the Fisher government's efforts to 'bring about legislation that will benefit the masses' and pressed for increased financial assistance for Tasmania. He argued that the State needed compensation for its loss of customs duties; he was chairman of a select committee on Tasmania customs leakage in 1910 and a royal commission on the same subject in 1910-11, the findings of which persuaded the government to grant the State an additional £500,000 over ten years.

Following the September 1914 elections, Jensen was appointed assistant minister for defence in the third Fisher government and in July next year was elevated to the newly created navy ministry. A pro-conscriptionist, he followed Hughes when the Labor Party split in November 1916 and retained his portfolio in the second Hughes government. He was appointed minister for trade and customs when Hughes formed his National ministry in 1917 and next year was president of the Board of Trade. However, in December 1918 when the report of a royal commission on navy and defence administration was released, Jensen was relieved of his ministerial post. The commissioner found that during his period as navy minister Jensen had incurred expenditure 'either without reference or in opposition to the Naval Board, and with unsatisfactory and costly results to the Commonwealth' in the purchase in 1916 of the [A.J.] Shaw Wireless Works at Randwick, Sydney, and of two unsuitable small vessels, S.S. Emerald and S.S. Togo. Jensen withdrew his support from the Nationalists after this and was defeated as an Independent at the 1919 elections.

In 1922, having campaigned against the Lee government's conservative financial policy, Jensen was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly as member for Bass. He was defeated in 1925 but, following readmittance to the Labor Party in 1927, won a seat for Wilmot next year and held it until 1934. Of placid demeanour in public, Jensen was at times violent at home and showed his second wife little affection. In 1934 he gave away most of his considerable wealth to Miss Maggie Jane Gilbert, his alcoholic cousin and for thirty-seven years his mistress. He had suffered from diabetes for many years and died on 16 November 1936 of cerebro-vascular disease at South Caulfield, Melbourne. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he was buried in St Kilda cemetery. His remaining estate, valued at £394, was bequeathed to Miss Gilbert; the provisions of the will were unsuccessfully contested in 1937 in a much publicized case by four of the children of Jensen's first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania (Hob, 1900)
  • E. Scott, Australia During the War (Syd, 1936)
  • British Australasian, 6 Jan 1916
  • Punch (Melbourne), 4 Jan 1912, 4 Mar 1915
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 14 Dec 1918
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5-8 Oct 1937.

Citation details

Quentin Beresford, 'Jensen, Jens August (1865–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 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

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