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Angas, John Howard (1823–1904)

John Howard Angas, by Hammer & Co, c1870

John Howard Angas, by Hammer & Co, c1870

State Library of South Australia, B 3860

A long and honorable career, identified with the history of this State practically from the beginning, closes with the death of Mr. John Howard Angas. His father, George Fife Angas, was one of the founders of South Australia, paying a part so important in connection with its establishment that, as Colonel Torrens wrote, "without his noble and disinterested aid the colony could not have been planted." The son, John Howard, coming to these shores a mere youth, charged with the task of re-establishing his father's fortunes, was among the pioneer settlers, and at the time of his decease his direct connection with South Australia had extended over a period of 60 years. With the progress as well as the foundation of the State the name of Angas is intimately associated, for both generations were equally inspired by devotion to public duty, and the son, as well as the father, has left claims to respectful and grateful remembrance which the historian cannot disregard. The Angases are a hardy, long-lived stock. The grandfather Caleb, the wealthy shipowner of Newcastle-on-Tyne, reached the age of 89. George Fife, his seventh son, lived till he was fourscore years and ten, while John Howard, the second son of George Fife, was an octogenarian. These three lives, extending over more than half of one century, the whole of another, and the beginning of a third, link 1742 with 1904. The grandfather might have had personal recollections of the closing scenes of the Jacobite rebellion; the grandson, to whom in childhood they might have been imparted, lived into the fourth year of the Commonwealth of Australia. Within his own lifetime the principal chapters of the amazing story of Australian colonisation were inscribed, and of some of the not least important pages he was himself the author. South Australia, whose development he aided from the dark days of the struggling infant settlement to the splendid epoch of the federated State, will not forget the service rendered by this worthy member of the fast-diminishing band of pioneers.

Elsewhere is sketched, with special reference to the life of him whose passing we deplore to-day, the story of the Angas family. It is not a romantic story, but neither is it a commonplace one; it is a story of remarkable success — of success, achieved perhaps with the help of exceptional opportunity, yet founded essentially on character, and true always to its source. If we go no further back than the grandfather Caleb, we find already in full flower those sturdy, middle-class virtues which in George Fife Angas and his son bore an abundant harvest. The type they represent is less brilliant than solid. Against it the familiar complaint is of some narrowness in its outlook and its sympathies, some want of breadth in its ideals, but whatever its deficiencies the truth is that it contributes to our nationality valuable elements of stability and strength not only in social life but in politics, religion, and philanthropy. In that close union of commercial shrewdness with religious feeling, and especially in the expression of both, which received in George Fife Angas a particularly striking illustration, there has appeared to some who are quite alien from the type a certain incongruity. Really there is no parodox to explain; the religious faith is as vital and sincere as the devotion to the business interest, and if at first it seems strange that the latter should be referred to in terms of the former, the wonder disappears when we realise that the religious feeling — the vivid sense of accountability to a higher Power — enters every department of life. Himself a Nonconformist, George Fife Angas, the merchant philanthropist, the friend and associate of Zachary Macaulay, Wilberforce, and Fowell Buxton (grandfather of our late Governor) had close relations with that section of the Evangelical party to which Sydney Smith gave the name of "the Clapham sect." The humanitarian spirit which surely must go a long way towards redeeming its theology from the reproach of narrowing the sympathies, was publicly exemplified in the anti-slavery agitation, the prison reform and other philanthropic movements, and privately in a thousand works of active beneficence. Whatever he thought about its doctrinal basis, it will not be denied that this at least was practical religion, and of a very useful kind. John Howard Angas, with his father's good sense and extraordinary capacity for business, inherited also those conceptions of duty to himself, to the State, and to his fellow-men, which have their root in strong religious faith. His Christian names remind us of the kind of influences which surrounded him at birth. How worthy he was to bear them has been shown by his own lifelong practice of philanthropy.

In his time a useful politician, the late Mr. Angas placed the land of his adoption under still heavier obligations by his pioneering enterprises, the deep and intelligent interest he displayed in the development of material resources, the help he gave to education, and his large benefactions to all kinds of charitable and religious causes. In public life the principles he followed were those of the old-fashioned individualistic school. He had no taste for the new forms of political altruism, and resented the attempt by what he considered excessive Government interference to enforce social duties on the private citizen. But this objection to the trend of modern legislation, especially as to the uses made of the taxing power, coexisted with very strong convictions respecting the responsibilities of wealth. Personally, Mr. Angas was a man of exceedingly simple tastes, to whom self indulgence in luxury and display was absolutely abhorrent. He regarded his riches as a trust, for the faithful discharge of which he was responsible to a higher authority than the State, and Mr. Carnegie's doctrines of the personal administration of a fortune had with him a religious sanction and expressed a pious duty. How much he did with his wealth in easing the lot of the sick, the helpless, and the suffering, in endeavoring to alleviate the condition of the aborigines, in promoting missionary undertakings, in the endowment of hospitals and schools, is known in part, for he was compelled to rely largely on established agencies of benevolence through which his generous contributions were made public. But from the nature of the disinterested motives inspiring it there was no ostentation in his charity, and numbers of his good works are little known beyond the circle of those who have benefited from them. Like other rich men, he was the recipient of innumerable appeals. He preferred to be his own almoner, and in the investigation of cases of distress he brought to bear the keen sagacity of the businessman. Stern against the impostor or the undeserving, he needed only a demonstration of real need to be prompt in its relief, adding to his gifts the kindly interest which showed how genuinely humane his feelings were. The death of John Howard Angas will not excite a merely formal manifestation of regret. South Australia loses in him a high minded citizen, with an honorable record of good service to the State, but his private virtues are known to not a few, who will mourn the departure of a true and tender-hearted friend.

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'Angas, John Howard (1823–1904)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/angas-john-howard-2890/text23980, accessed 17 October 2019.

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