Hawdon was born at Wackerfield, Durham, England, the son of John Hawdon. At the suggestion of his elder brother John, who had arrived in Sydney in 1828, he decided to travel to Australia, arriving at Sydney in November 1834.
In 1836 Hawdon together with John Gardiner and John Hepburn made an overland journey to Melbourne with cattle, the first to come from New South Wales. Hawdon returned briefly to Sydney, but then in 1837 he moved to Melbourne and in August took up land near the present site of Dandenong.
About the end of that year the newly established South Australian settlement was threatened with famine. Sensing a commercial opportunity, Hawdon returned to New South Wales where, along with Charles Bonney and Charles Campbell, he put together an expedition to drove 300 head of cattle from the Goulburn district to Adelaide, where they arrived on 3 April 1838. Following the course of the Murray River, along the route they discovered two fine lakes - Lake Victoria and Lake Bonney. Hawdon named the first after Queen Victoria and the second after Bonney. Charles Sturt in an official report made in August 1838 said of this journey: "Messrs Hawdon and Bonney could not have taken a more direct line or shortened the journey more wisely". Having beaten other aspiring overlanders, including John Hill and Edward John Eyre, Hawdon then withdrew from overlanding.
Settler of Victoria
Hawdon became the official mail contractor between Melbourne and Yass at the beginning of 1838. He made his headquarters at or near Melbourne for many years, and was one of the directors of the Pastoral and Agricultural Society when it was formed in 1840, and a member of the committee of the Victorian Horticultural Society which was inaugurated in November 1848. He had a property at Heidelberg and in August 1851 discovered a few grains of gold near the Yarra River. He remained in Australia until 1858 and then returned to England.
In 1863 Hawdon took up land between Christchurch and Westland, New Zealand, and afterwards spent some years in England. He returned to New Zealand and was nominated to the New Zealand Legislative Council in 1866, where he served for the rest of his life. He died at Christchurch on 12 April 1871.
Hawdon River and Lake Hawdon are named after him. He married in 1842 Emma (daughter of W. Outhwaite) who died in 1853. His eldest daughter Emma Josephine married Robert Campbell on 2 December 1868 in Christchurch, and his daughter Alice married Edward Wingfield Humphreys on 22 April 1869 in Christchurch.
- "The Hon. Joseph Hawdon". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Canterbury Provincial District. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1903. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
- Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. p. 78.
- "DEATH" (894). The Star. 12 April 1871. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
- "Local and General" (895). The Star. 13 April 1871. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
- "MARRIAGE" (174). The Star. 2 December 1868. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
- Evans, Beverley. "BMD - April 22nd 1869 - 31 May 1869.". Retrieved 28 April 2010.
- Alan Gross, 'Hawdon, Joseph (1813 - 1871)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, MUP, 1966, p. 524. Retrieved 1 February 2009
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Hawdon, Joseph". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2009-02-01.