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Ebenezer Ward (1837–1917)

by J. B. Hirst

This article was published:

Ebenezer Ward (1837-1917), by unknown photographer

Ebenezer Ward (1837-1917), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23546358

Ebenezer Ward (1837-1917), journalist and politician, was born at Westminster, London, on 4 September 1837, son of Joseph Ward, oil and colour merchant, later a Baptist minister, and his wife Grace, née Guy. Educated at the Baptist Dumpton Hall School, Ramsgate, he went to London at 12 to avoid becoming a clergyman. He joined the Morning Post as a proofreader's boy, learned shorthand and became a junior reporter.

Arriving in Melbourne in 1859 Ward became theatre critic on the Melbourne Herald. In August 1860 he accompanied G. V. Brooke to Adelaide, appearing briefly at the Victoria Theatre before returning to Melbourne and journalism. In 1861 he joined the South Australian Advertiser and wrote a series of articles, published in 1862 as The Vineyards and Orchards of South Australia. In August he joined Frederick Sinnett as sub-editor of the Daily Telegraph until 1863 when he went back to Melbourne to write for the Age. In 1864 he was clerk-in-charge, accountant and postmaster in the first South Australian government expedition to the Northern Territory but was dismissed by B. T. Finniss for insubordination. Rejoining the Daily Telegraph he became its editor in August 1865. He was secretary to the South Australian Agricultural and Horticultural Society in 1866-68. He published The South-Eastern District of South Australia: Its Resources and Requirements in 1869.

In 1861 Ward had eloped with Matilda Ann Simmons, aged 17, whom he married on 19 December. Two sons were born before 1866 when she sued for divorce, charging adultery and cruelty. Ward counter-petitioned alleging adultery, and was granted a divorce in June 1870. On 12 December he married Lucy Johnson of Willaston. They had four sons and five daughters.

Unsuccessful in 1868, Ward was elected to the House of Assembly for Gumeracha in 1870 as a radical land reformer. In 1871 he won repute with a campaign that persuaded the government to suspend auction sales pending a more liberal credit selection law; in 1872-75 he criticized land administration effectively and advocated more generous terms for farmers. His own newspapers, the Northern Guardian and the Farmers Weekly Messenger, gained him influence and notoriety. In 1875-76 Ward was minister of agriculture and education, a minor portfolio which J. P. Boucaut created to keep him from land administration. He introduced the compulsory and secular education bill of 1875 and chaired the commission on agricultural and technical education. In 1876-77 he held the same office in J. Colton's ministry.

Bankrupt in 1880, Ward resigned from parliament and unsuccessfully sued E. H. Derrington of the Port Adelaide News, Shipping and Commercial Advertiser for libel. The six-day trial resurrected past scandals but did not prevent his re-election for Burra in 1881-84 and Frome in 1884-90, when he was chairman of committees. He represented the Northern District in the Legislative Council in 1891-1900. He was a consistent advocate of Federation and of railway-building to the eastern colonies and the Northern Territory, but in the 1880s he led opposition to South Australia joining the Federal Council, which he saw as a hindrance to genuine Federation. He criticized the 1891 draft Federal constitution on states-rights grounds and in 1897 advocated unification. He ran unsuccessfully for the Federal Convention.

Ward was regarded as the most eloquent man in parliament, but his indolence when in office and his contrariness limited his effectiveness, even apart from the scandal of his private life. His need was for individual display and assertiveness. Out of parliament from 1900, he was again in financial difficulties. In 1911 he moved to Perth and resumed his old trade, writing for the Western Mail. Survived by six sons and five daughters, he died in Perth on 8 October 1917 and was buried in the Anglican section of the Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Hirst, Adelaide and the Country 1870-1917 (Melb, 1973)
  • Register (Adelaide), 28 Apr–6 May 1880
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 9 Oct 1917
  • Matrimonial causes jurisdiction no 92, 102, 130 (Supreme Court records, South Australia).

Citation details

J. B. Hirst, 'Ward, Ebenezer (1837–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Ebenezer Ward (1837-1917), by unknown photographer

Ebenezer Ward (1837-1917), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23546358

Life Summary [details]


4 September, 1837
London, Middlesex, England


8 October, 1917 (aged 80)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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