John Hodgson (Australian politician)

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John Hodgson (1799 – 2 August 1860) was an Australian politician, member of the Victorian Legislative Council and Mayor of Melbourne 1853–54. He died at his house in Kew of bronchitis.


Arrival in Melbourne

According to his great, great grand daughter, Hodgson was born at Studley, Wadworth, Yorkshire in 1799 to William and Mary Hodgson. The Re-member database puts his birthplace in the small west Yorkshire village of Wadsworth. [1]

Studley in Wadworth, and therefore its use in Melbourne, probably draws on the now World Heritage site of Studley Royal Park Yorkshire, famous for the gardens developed over a hundred years from 1716 by the Aislabie family. The gardens were a popular tourist destination during the 19th century.

The oral source says he and his wife, Annie Buckley Hodgson, with three sons and three daughters arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1837. Later that year they settled in Melbourne. [2]

In 1837 a passenger of the same name is reported travelling from Launceston to Sydney on the wooden paddle steamer James Watt. Image of James Watt. [3] Almost a year later, on the same vessel, a Hodgson is recorded taking passage for Port Phillip. [4]

Business interests

Hodgson became a merchant and speculated in land [1] and in 1840 he took a squatting licence over Studley Park, on Kew's eastern bank of the Yarra River. [1] He built house in Flinders Street and country quarters on the Yarra where he established a punt in 1839; insolvent 1841; grazing interests in Heidelberg district from 1842'.

An early-20th-century report says that in 1837 he bought the land on which the Block Arcade now stands for £23, but that he forfeited the purchase and lost his £2/6/ deposit. [5] In 1839, as the land boom was nearing its bust, he is recorded buying 211 acres (0.85 km2) for just over £1,300. [6] 'The investment of money in land has now become a perfect lottery' said the Argus reporting the sale.

On 11 February 1841 Hodgson became the second person to be registered as insolvent in the Port Phillip district. [7] It appears that like many in the 40s he ran out of cash. By 18 October 1842 he received his Certificate signalling the end of his insolvency. [8] In 1842 a Mr Curr purchased at a sheriff's sale 'at a great bargain' a house ‘lately the property of Mr Hodgson’ on a ‘pretty little spot on the Yarra.’ [9] In 1843 his Flinders Street properties were sold at auction by the Trustees of the Insolvent Estate. [10]

He clearly solved these early problems.

In 1844, [11] 1845, [12] 1848 [13] 1849 [14] and 1850 the Government Gazette reports him taking out a licence to ‘depasture stock, strip bark, and cut timber, (in Bourke) in the district of Port Phillip’. In 1845 [15] he exported 100 tons of bark – probably black wattle bark used for tanning as well as 13 red gum logs. [16] The bark may have been a by-product of land clearing by Hodgson. In 1846 [17] he exported 27 logs on the Glenbervie bound for London. In 1847 [18] he bought two lots of land in Warrnambool for £14 15s.

By 1847 insolvency was well behind him as he was on the ‘Burgess list’ [19] at an address ‘off Little Collins Street’ – probably the Bank Place address he used from then on. One had to meet a number of criteria to be a voter or burgess including owning property worth in excess of £1000. In 1847 he is listed in the Directory for the Town and District of Port Philip as 'Hodgson John: settler: Studley: Yarra Yarra'. He is on the Port Phillip electoral roll 1848-49 as owning a freehold property 'suburban, near Melbourne'.

We know that he ran a store as one of John T. Smith's political opponents in 1848 said [20] that Smith ‘went through the gradations of shopkeeper and third rate clerk to Mr. John Hodgson’

Another sign of Hodgson's financial strength is that he ran a horse stud. He advertised frequently in the Argus for the services of Euclid and Royal William in 1846 and 1847. The charge was £5 5s. for each mare. The stallions stood at ‘Mr. Hodgson's Paddock, Studley, near Melbourne.’

In 1851 he ran for the City of Melbourne in the inaugural Victorian Legislative Council which means that he met the Candidate criteria. of owning free-hold property worth £5000.

When he stood for election to the first Legislative Council in 1851 the Argus attacked his candidacy commenting on his business interests as follows: it appears that his profession is of such a nature, as to afford ample leisure to attend to anything he takes in hand, and therefore, industry may be added to his list of public virtues. What that profession is, and with what particular interest we may suppose Mr Hodgson likely to be identified, we acknowledge that we are perfectly at a loss to conceive ; and we never yet met any one able to give us the required information ; except one gentleman, who suggested his connexion with the shipping interest, in consequence of his having a punt somewhere on the Yarra.

Hodgson's Punt

The punt ran across the Yarra River near from the foot of what is now Clarke Street, Abbotsford, [21] the exact location being where the remains of the original Johnson Street Bridge are still visible today. The punt can be seen in Nicholas Chevalier's painting 'Studley Park at sunrise' (1861)The painting., also an etching (which was attributed to Chevalier's work) by F. Grosse (1828-1894) and watercolour and gouache (1876) by H. Burn (1807?-1884). By 1861 the punt had stopped operating. It was probably put out of business when the Penny Bridge was constructed from Church Street to the Park in 1857. According to a letter to the Argus the Punt was still operating in 1856 but a coronial inquest reported in the Argus of 1859 said the body had been found 'near where the old Hodgson's Punt crossed the river.' [22]


Hodgson owned land between Flinders Lane, Queen and Flinders Streets - one and half of Hoddle's 'allotments' in section 1 of the new city. He built an 'ambitious' residence known as 'Hodgson's Folly'. 'It was for some time a centre of the social life of the young town, but when its owner decided to go farther afield to the pleasant riverside atmosphere of Studley Park, where he built a new home, it became a boarding establishment for young women'. [23]

His own advertisement in 1840 called 'Yarra House' a 'splendid Mansion, finished in every part in a very superior and substantial manner, containing numerous entertaining rooms of large dimensions, the bedrooms, offices, and cellars are very complete, in all twenty six rooms... [24] The garden achieved colonial fame. The Sydney Herald [25] and the Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen's Land Gazette both carried reports of a 2-foot-long (0.61 m) cucumber grown by his gardener. [26] The newly formed Port Phillip Club rented the building in 1840 for £600 a year. [27] Hodgson put the 'elegant house' up for auction in February 1841, and it was 'bought in at' £3,700. [28]

There is some uncertainty about the 'new home by the river'. One reference says that 'The site of the former St Heliers Convent was originally purchased Major Henry Smyth of Sydney in 1838, and leased to John Hodgson.' [29] Another reference says 'One of these riverside allotments was purchased by Edward Curr, who built a house on the site, and named it St Helier.' [30] The Colonial Times report referred to above suggests that Hodgson built St Helier only to become insolvent. Kerr's Melbourne Almanac and Port Phillip Directory for 1841 has his address as 'St Helier's Yarra Yarra, Melbourne'. [31]

This is supported by the Port Phillip Herald 28 January 1842 which reported 'Mr Hodgson's beautiful property (35 acres) on the Yarra, known as 'St Hillier' was sold by the Sheriff on Tuesday for £1160, subject to a mortgage of £1100. The garden is known as the prettiest within many miles of town.' [31]

In the 1847 Directory [32] Hodgson's entry reads 'Hodgson John: settler: Studley: Yarra Yarra'. Hodgson provided various addresses in public advertisements in the Argus, including the Melbourne Club and Bank Place. On 3 June 1852 from the Bank Place address he advertised for rent a "large and substantial Home, suitable for a Public House, one mile from Melbourne".

Hodgson built what became known as Studley House in 1857 in Nolan Avenue Kew. The original house is symmetrical with a double storeyed colonnade of ionic on Tuscan orders supporting a parapet with urns. The net asset value was £200. The house was added to by the squatter James McEvoy, who bought it on Hodgson's death. John Wren, who bought the property in 1902, also added substantially to the house. [33] It is now part of Xavier College. Photos The house is on the National Estate. National Estate listing.

Public life

Hodgson began his career as a politician on Tuesday 21 May 1850 at the Imperial Inn when Councillor Armitstead, who had resigned short of his full term, nominated Hodgson to succeed him as a Councillor for Lonsdale ward in the south west of the city for the balance of his term. Based on a show of hands by those present the other candidate was declared elected by the Mayor, who was presiding over the Alderman's Court. Hodgson exercised his right to ask for a poll, which was held the next day. The poll opened at 9 am and, as was the practice, the vote was declared every hour. Hodgson was level at 11 am and then drew ahead, holding 127 votes to 82 when the poll closed at 4 pm.

Hodgson and his Committee campaigned energetically, whereas the other candidate's campaign was described by the Argus as "apathetic and listless". One hundred fifty-six electors chose not to vote; the Argus called it a "pygmy contest" and "a very tame and spiritless affair, and the stake so small as to be hardly worth playing for seriously, presenting only the not very tempting bait of a seat in the City Council for the short period of five months". Hodgson was declared elected the next day, and shortly after elected to the Public Works and Finance Committees of the City Council. [34] Five months later at the Council elections, Hodgson proved the Argus wrong. No other candidate stood against him, and he was declared elected as a Councillor for a full term.

His recorded interventions as a new Councillor relate to his Committee roles, seconding motions on sewerage, clean water and the Surveyor's salary. He revealed some of his views by taking a strong stand against the pro-transportation and anti Port Phillip opinions expressed by William Wentworth.

In 1851 Hodgson ran for a seat in the new Victorian Legislative Council. The Argus was not amused: "The next most objectionable man amongst the candidates for the representation of Melbourne, is Councillor Hodgson. Second only in unfitness, for so great a public trust, to the slippery Doctor, Councillor Hodgson has so few of the requisites for a leading public man, that for a long time we could not believe him serious in aiming at such a distinction. Of his political principle's we think pretty nearly as humbly as we do of his capacity ... he appears to court popularity by trying to conciliate all; and he therefore becomes, what all such men are apt to become, something very like a trimmer." [35]

As the election drew close it appeared that Hodgson could beat William Westgarth. The Argus wrote:

Amongst these candidates we find Mr Westgarth, the man of all others who has the best claims to a seat in the new Council and Councillor Hodgson, whose claims are the most supremely ridiculous. And yet a diligent canvass on the part of the latter, has impressed many sagacious people with the belief that Councillor Hodsgon will succeed in ousting Mr Westgarth. The multiplicity of the engagements of the one gentleman has prevented him from attending to his canvass as diligently as he might have done; while the mysteriously convenient nature of the avocations of the second, seems to have left him perfectly at leisure to creep about back lanes, and solicit votes all day and every day. [36]

Hodgson's candidacy did not survive this opposition, and he was not elected, he finished fourth in the poll, the first three were elected to Council. [37]

It may have been some consolation that on 11 November 1851 Hodgson was elected Alderman, or senior Councillor, in his ward. Later, however, on 8 June 1853 [38] Hodgson was elected to the City of Melbourne as one of the three additional members in the expansion of the unicameral Legislative Council and was sworn-in two months later. [1] Hodgson held this seat until March 1856. [1] When the new Legislative Council (the upper house of the new Parliament) was created in November 1856, Hodgson was elected a member for Central Province, a seat he held until August 1860. [1]

Other interests

Hodgson had a continuing interest in the City's developing infrastructure.

As early as 1846 he is noted in the Argus as proposing "a timber bridge across the Yarra Yarra, in the vicinity of Mr. Simpson's residence". [39] Simpson was the well respected first "arbitrator" (1836) and later following Lonsdale, the second police magistrate of the new colony. Throughout the 1840s Simpson lived in Little Flinders Street.

He was a member of the Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science 1854, the Philosophical Institute of Victoria 1855, 1857–9 and the Royal Society of Victoria 1860. Royal Society

He helped establish the Burke and Wills expedition. At a public meeting in the Mechanics Institute in Collins Street, Hodgson with six others formed the Exploration Fund Raising Committee in August 1958. In January 1860, with its work done, the EFRC was dissolved, and the Royal Society of Victoria formed an Exploration Committee, of which Hodgson became Vice Chair on 25 January 1860. Hodgson attended his last committee meeting on 23 July 1860, ten days before he died, and a couple of weeks before Burke and Willis left Melbourne on 20 August.

Hodgson seconded the motion to establish "a Loyal Joint Stock Bank, to be called the Bank of Victoria", [40] and served on the Provisional Committee to establish the Bank. An Act of the Legislative Council established the Bank in 1852. The Bank operated until 1927 when it merged with the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney which itself became part of the National Australia Bank in 1981. [41]

Hodgson attended a public meeting [42] that aimed to take preliminary steps for the formation of "a Coal Company for the working of the coal known to exist at Western Port".

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "John Hodgson". re-member: a database of all Victorian MPs since 1851. Parliament of Victoria.
  2. Rosemary Browning
  3. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Saturday 30 December 1837.
  4. The Sydney Herald Sunday 5 November 1838
  5. Argus 1 June 1918
  6. The Argus Tuesday 15 October 1839
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 May 2010. Retrieved 6 July 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. Victorian Government Gazette March, June, September 1842
  9. Tuesday 29 March 1842 Colonial Times (Hobart)
  10. Victorian Government Gazette 28 March 1843
  11. Port Phillip Herald 15 Nov 1844
  12. Melbourne Courier 3 Nov 1845
  13. Argus Tuesday 2 January 1849
  14. Port Phillip Government Gazette 1 August 1849
  15. Sydney Morning Herald Friday 20 June 1845
  16. Geelong Advertiser 28 May 1845
  17. Argus Tuesday 11 August 1846
  18. Argus Friday 8 October 1847
  19. The Argus Friday 10 September 1847
  20. Tuesday 19 September 1848
  21. Barnard, F. G. A. (1910). The Jubilee History of Kew. Kew: E. F. G. Hodges 'Mercury Office'.
  22. Argus 6 October 1856 and 11 May 1859
  23. Argus Tuesday 16 October 1934
  24. 27 April 1840 The Sydney Herald
  25. Monday 27 January 1840
  26. Friday 31 January 1840
  27. The Sydney Herald Wednesday 16 September 1840
  28. Argus 11 Feb 1841
  29. 1998 City of Yarra Heritage Review : Landscape Citations, Allom Lovell & Associates and John Patrick Ply Ltd
  30. CIty of Yarra Heritage Review - Building Citations Allom Lovell and Assocs cite A Lemon. The Abbotsford Campus: The Historical Background of its Place Names.
  31. 1 2 "Free Web Hosting - Your Website need to be migrated".
  32. 1847 Directory for the Town and District of Port Phillip.
  33. National Trust of Aust.Vic), 'Research into 'StudleyHouse', 4 August 1975. City Of Kew Urban Conservation Study: Volume 2
  34. The Argus various editions May 1850
  35. The Argus 16 August 1851
  36. Argus 8 September 1851
  37. "The City Election. Declaration of the Poll". The Argus. Trove. 15 September 1851. p. 2. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  38. Labilliere, Francis Peter (1878). "Early History of the Colony of Victoria" . Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  39. Tuesday 1 September 1846
  40. Argus Wednesday 7 July 1852
  41. Guide to Australian Business Records.
  42. Argus Monday 6 May 1850
Preceded by Mayor of Melbourne
Succeeded by
Victorian Legislative Council
New seat Member for City of Melbourne
June 1853 – March 1856
With: John Smith 1853–56
Augustus Greeves 1853–56
John O'Shanassy 1853–56
Henry Langlands 1853,
Frederick Sargood 1853–56
James Murphy 1853–55,
Thomas Rae 1855–56
New district Member for Central Province
November 1856 – August 1860
With: John Fawkner 1856–60
Henry Miller 1856–58
Thomas Fellows 1858–60
John Hood 1856–59
George Cole 1859–60
Nehemiah Guthridge 1856–58
Thomas T. à Beckett 1858–60
Succeeded by