Charles Hotson Ebden (1811 – 28 October 1867) was an Australian pastoralist and politician.
Ebden was born in 1811 at the Cape of Good Hope in the Cape Colony, the son of merchant and banker John Bardwell Ebden and his wife Antoinetta. He was educated in England and also in Karlsruhe in the German Confederation.
Early career in Australia
As a young man Ebden made several trips between the Cape and the Australian colonies, before settling in Sydney, New South Wales in 1832 and establishing a merchant business. After accumulating sufficient capital, he moved into pastoralism, and by early 1835 was among those pastoralists introducing cattle to the southern parts of New South Wales. He established a run at Tarcutta Creek, before his stockman, William Wyse, commenced two more runs straddling the Murray River: Mungabareena, near what is now Albury, New South Wales, and Bonegilla, near what is now Bonegilla, Victoria, making Ebden the first pastoralist to send cattle across the Murray.
Ebden hired Charles Bonney midway through 1836 to manage the stations on the Murray, but soon sent Bonney to search for an overland cattle route to Melbourne and the other settled parts of the Port Phillip District. The Ovens River was in flood during Bonney's first attempt, and he was unable to find a way across, but a second attempt was commenced on 25 December 1836. Some accounts place Ebden with Bonney on this second journey, which was completed on 7 January when the party arrived in Melbourne, just days behind John Gardiner, Joseph Hawdon and John Hepburn, the first to bring cattle overland from New South Wales.
By about March 1837 Ebden was moving his sheep south from the Murray, and was observed in May of that year near the Goulburn River; his flock was estimated to consist of nine thousand sheep, suggesting the backing of capital of about £20,000. He was in Melbourne in the middle of the year in time for the first land sale, held on 1 June 1837, at which one hundred lots of just under 0.5 acres (0.20 ha) each were auctioned (the lots covered eight major blocks, bounded by Flinders Street, Bourke Street, King Street and Swanston Street). Ebden was among the major purchases, buying three lots in Collins Street between Queen Street and William Street. Later in 1837 he established a station on the Campaspe River, naming it Carlsruhe (near what is now Carlsruhe, Victoria), in doing so becoming the first pastoralist to settle in the Port Phillip District north of the Great Dividing Range.
Ebden lived in Melbourne from about 1840, having sold Mungabareena station in 1837 and Carlsruhe station in 1840. He had also sold his three lots in Collins Street in September 1839 for a total of £10,244 (having purchased them two years earlier for £136); at the Melbourne Club shortly after the sale he remarked "I fear I am becoming disgustingly rich". In Melbourne Ebden lived in a mansion he had built at the top end of Collins Street.
Under the New South Wales Constitution Act 1842, the electors of the Port Phillip District were able to elect six of the thirty-six members of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, and at the first elections on 1 June 1843, Ebden was comfortably elected as one of the six, with the most votes of any Port Phillip candidate. He resigned on 31 March 1844, but was elected again on 1 March 1848, only to resign again on 20 June of that year, since he "could no longer lend himself to the perpetration of what was only a farce". Ebden was nevertheless elected for a third time on 1 June 1850, and remained a member until the separation of Port Phillip District from New South Wales to form the new Colony of Victoria on 1 July 1851.
In either 1847 or 1848, Ebden married Tamar Harding; the couple would later have two daughters and one son.
In July 1851 Ebden was made auditor-general in the new independent government of Victoria, which entitled him to a seat in the Legislative Council of Victoria. While little is known about the operation of the Audit Office at the time (and in particular, the division of responsibilities between that department and the Treasury is unclear) he seems to have been broadly responsible for every aspect of public finance in the new colony. The commencement of the Victorian gold rush, with the consequent difficulties of auditing state revenues generated from gold and the explosion in necessary public works expenditure, was the most notable feature of Ebden's time as Auditor-General. Ebden, along with Attorney-General William Stawell, was a well-regarded performer among the early government officers, but did not work well with Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe, and was excluded from the Executive Council. Ebden resigned in October 1852 after seemingly becoming disaffected with the direction of the government, and becoming "tired of having responsibility without power".
In 1854 Ebden travelled to England, returning in 1856. Later that year he arranged for the construction of a holiday house, Black Rock House, which was completed in 1858; it was located near Brighton, Victoria (at what is now Ebden Avenue in Black Rock). At one point Ebden rented the house for six months to the Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Barkly.
Also in 1856, Ebden stood for election to the newly established Legislative Assembly of Victoria in the district of Melbourne. Linked to the faction of John O'Shanassy, which sought to position itself as something of an opposition to the incumbent government of William Haines, but Ebden failed to be elected; indeed, he finished last. In March 1857 however, he was elected in the district of Brighton, and was Treasurer of Victoria under Haines' second government.
Ebden maintained his pastoralist interests alongside his parliamentary career. In the late 1850s he owned nearly 500,000 acres (200,000 ha) near Kerang. In 1858 he and his son-in-law subdivided the 370,000 acres (150,000 ha) Reedy Lake run near Swan Hill, selling one lot to Thomas Browne for £24,000; serendipitously the exorbitant price seems to have pushed Browne into insolvency, prompting him to commence his literary career under the pen-name Rolf Boldrewood.
Ebden was aligned with Premier William Nicholson following the 1859 election, but declined to join Nicholson's ministry on the basis that his perceived views on land reform would jeopardise the passage of Nicholson's land reform legislation (which ultimately became the Land Act 1860). He reconciled with O'Shanassy in 1860, and after the defeat of the Nicholson government in November of that year, the two provided a base of conservative support for a more radical ministry led by Richard Heales, who succeeded Nicholson as Premier. However, they provided Heales with little real support, and indeed Ebden resigned from the Legislative Assembly in May 1861 and returned to England.
Late life and legacy
Ebden remained in England for the next five years, but was in poor health for much of that time, suffering asthma. He became healthier upon his return to Victoria, but at the Melbourne Club on 28 October 1867 he died. He left his estate, worth approximately £100,000, to his wife and his children.
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