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Hughes, John Bristow (1817–1881)

Death of Mr J. B. Hughes.

Our Melbourne telegrams contain the melancholy news that Mr. John Bristow Hughes has met his death by drowning. The intelligence will cause a shock to the very large circle of Mr. Hughes's acquaintances and deep regret to his many friends, A few weeks ago he left Adelaide on a visit to the Western District of Victoria, intending afterwards to go on to Melbourne. This plan he carried out, and it was whilst he was seeking repose and rest at Point Lonsdale, a well-known resort in Hobson's Bay, that the accident occurred which has deprived South Australia of one of its earliest pioneers and most constant friends. Before leaving Mr. Hughes seems to have entertained a sort of presentiment that he would not return, for in conversation with a friend to whose custody he committed some interesting records he spoke of the contingency of never coming back to claim the papers. The deceased gentleman, with his brother, Mr. Herbert Bristow Hughes, came to the colony in the early days, having, if we mistake not, first landed in Sydney. As early as August of 1811 we hear of him as having a station on the Gilbert with between 3,000 and 4,000 sheep—a tolerably large flock for such primitive times. Subsequently he pushed out further northwards, and his perseverance and energy in pastoral pursuits were rewarded by a fair share of prosperity. Mr. Hughes was not long in the coloney before he began to manifest that interest in public affairs which distinguished him to the last. He was one of the first active promoters of the project for the establishment of St. Peter's Collegiate School, and as our readers are aware, he has never ceased to watch the career of that institution with the utmost solicitude. Of late years he has acted towards it the part of a vigilant and severe critic. A large number of letters regarding its position and management have appeared in our columns. In publishing them we have been actuated by the feeling that St. Peter's College is one of the most ancient of South Australian institution; that occupying, as it does, so prominent a position among the establishments undertaken to confer the benefits of higher class education upon the country, the manner in which it is conducted is a subject of public importance; and that to one of the pioneers of the school it was only fair to allow a latitude of criticism which might properly be denied to a mere outsider. Soon after the establishment of the College in 1849 we find Mr. Hughes identifying himself with political matters. He assisted in fighting the battle of no State aid to religion, and the attitude he then assumed of determined opposition to everything in the shape of a privileged Church he faithfully maintained to the end. He entered Parliament in 1853 as the elected representative for East Torrens in what was then the mixed Council, and took a leading part in the discussion of the New Constitution Act, which in 1856 was reduced to legislative form, and received the Royal assent. The list of these patriarchal founders of the institution of responsible government in the colony has now become very much reduced. Only five or six out of the twenty-five who then constituted the Parliament of South Australia are alive, and of these three are not now in the colony. The colony owes a debt of gratitude to those who were able to construct a Constitution which has borne the test for so many years, and the fact of his having been amongst the number will help to keep the memory of Mr. Hughes green in the community. At the elections 1857 following upon the ex tinction of the old Council Mr. Hughes was returned for Port Adelaide, and represented that constituency until September 24, 1858, when he resigned. He was one of the warmest supporters of the system of land transfer proposed by Sir R. R. Torrens, and on September 1, 1857, he took office as Treasurer in the Cabinet formed by that gentle man with a view to carrying that measure. His Ministerial career was short, for on September 30 of the same year he and his colleagues had to give way for their successors. They had, however, done good service during their brief stay in office, and it will be remembered to Mr. Hughes's credit that he played an important part in the passing of theReal Property Act. Soon after quitting Parliamentary life. Mr. Hughes betook himself to the Western District of V ictoria, where he engaged in squatting. For a time he prospered, but, owing to the outbreak of pleuro-pneumonia, he was in the end brought almost to the verge of ruin. Returning to South Australia some seven or eight years ago, he has busied himself with public matters. On two occasions he has offered himself as a candidate for the House of Assembly, but with out success. He has, however, found compensation for his absence from Parliament in writing to the newspapers. To his letters on the subject of St. Peter's College we have already referred; but he took a profound interest in financial and railway questions, and many trenchant criticisms from his pen upon the subjects have appeared in onr columns. In the anti-Ritualistic movements which have from time to time arisen, he took the foremost position, and as a member of the Church Association here he has vigorously denounced what he regarded as practices and teachings unwarranted by the laws and tradi tions of the Church of England. For some time past Mr. Hughes has been suffering from gout, and it is possible that an attack of this enemy while he was in the water rendered him unable to struggle against the current, which carried him out to sea. He leaves behind him a wife and several children.

Original publication

Citation details

'Hughes, John Bristow (1817–1881)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hughes-john-bristow-3812/text30326, accessed 12 December 2019.

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