From Queensland squatter to English squire: Arthur Hodgson and the colonial gentry, 1840-1870

Donovan, Valerie (1994). From Queensland squatter to English squire: Arthur Hodgson and the colonial gentry, 1840-1870 M.A. Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Donovan, Valerie
Thesis Title From Queensland squatter to English squire: Arthur Hodgson and the colonial gentry, 1840-1870
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1994
Thesis type M.A. Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor -
Total pages 202
Language eng
Subjects 430101 History - Australian
Formatted abstract
In focusing on Arthur Hodgson as representative of an elite group, this thesis illustrates the importance of the individual in history as a means of reflecting on past societies. It is therefore a social history which highlights the role of individuals as causal agents of change.

Hodgson was one of a group of well educated young gentlemen from the upper classes of British society who became the first white settlers on the Darling Downs, then the northern extremity of the colony of New South Wales. As gentlemen educated in the traditions of the landed gentry - an aristocratic system gradually losing its relevance in English society - they wished to perpetuate the privileges of land ownership in Australia. Some of the squatters succumbed to the physical and financial hardship during the first few years after settlement in 1840. For those who survived, there was the opportunity to become wealthy landowners. Hodgson was one who had the necessary characteristics to achieve this ambition.

Yet their success came at a cost. As a group providing the main economic stimulus to the area, they became very powerful, socially and politically as well as economically. They regarded themselves, through the privilege of property, as the legitimate ruling class, and in this regard lost the respect of other groups in society. This has resulted in the Darling Downs' squatters becoming a much maligned group in history.

It was the desire to understand this attitude that led to the analytical study of Hodgson. A knowledge of the background and aspirations of such gentlemen assists in the explanation of why the Darling Downs' squatters became such an exclusive group in society, and what the consequences were of this development.

This thesis begins with an introduction which provides the premise upon which the argument of the work rests. In the study of individuals it is important to remember that they are symbols and symptoms of their time and place. While they may be causal agents of change, they are influenced by circumstances from the past. Therefore the treatment of Hodgson in the following chapters is based on his attitude to his place in society. Discussion takes place under the headings of Gentlemanly aspirations; Squatting, a means to an end; Colonial wealth and power; A patriarchal society; A hapless political career; Almost a city man; and The life of an English squire.

The idea of the Victorian gentleman's attitude is extended in chapter one, which briefly describes the aristocratic system in Britain based on the inheritance or possession of large landed estates. Although Hodgson was not a member of the aristocracy, he was influenced by this system, his father being a clergyman of gentry status. The chapter traces the little that is known of Hodgson as a child and young man in England to his departure in November 1838 for Australia where he arrived in March 1839.

Chapter two deals with the early days of settlement, when Hodgson took up a large landholding on the Darling Downs in 1840. He named his son Eton Vale. The chapter highlights the positive characteristics which fostered Hodgson's success as a pioneer, while analyzing the initial conflict in society over the labour problems and land legislation.

This conflict led to the squatters uniting as a political force, which is discussed in chapter three. The study of Hodgson's acquisition of land and wealth emphasizes the consequent social and political influence of the squatters as a group. Through their wealth and power they became a colonial gentry, based on the patriarchal society of English village life.

To foster a greater understanding of how this society developed and to what extent it was entrenched, chapter four takes an anthropological approach, using a form of retrospective ethnography. The evolution of buildings on Eton Vale, illustrated by photographs, and a study of the social milieu places the participants of Darling Downs' society at the forefront of this thesis.

Hodgson made his first foray into politics in 1854, believing that the privilege and responsibility of those with property was to govern. His problematic political career, discussed in chapter five, highlights the change that was occurring in Australian society. This change thwarted the aspirations of the pastoralists to perpetuate a colonial gentry.

Although Hodgson's political career was not very notable, he had a very successful term as general superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Company from 1856 to 1861. While chapter six takes the focus away from the Darling Downs and society, it is important for this analytical study of Hodgson, as these records provide the most comprehensive direct resource available.

Although Hodgson made two attempts to settle in Australia after his initial period on the Darling Downs, he returned to live permanently in England in 1870. Here he was able to satisfy his unfulfilled colonial ambitions, becoming an English squire and taking a very active role in public life. His public duties included representing Queensland at five inter-colonial exhibitions, for which he was knighted.

The conclusion overviews the rise of the squatters to a colonial gentry, which equated with their aspirations as Victorian gentlemen. Their quest to perpetuate this class was restrained by the rise of democracy in Australia, a development that is underscored by this study of an individual in history.
Keyword Hodgson, Arthur, Sir, 1818-1902
Darling Downs (Qld.) -- History
Queensland -- Social conditions -- 1824-1900
Great Britain -- Social conditions -- 19th century
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

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