Walter Hughes

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Walter Hughes, 1875 engraving

Sir Walter Watson Hughes (22 August 1803 – 1 January 1887),[1] who before his knighthood was frequently referred to as "Captain Hughes", was a pastoralist, public benefactor and founder of the University of Adelaide, South Australia.

Early life[edit]

Hughes was born in Pittenweem, Fife, Scotland, the third son[2] of Thomas Hughes and his wife Eliza, née Anderson.[1] Hughes attended school in Crail and was apprenticed to a cooper for a short time - he then entered the merchant service and became a master, including whaling in the Arctic for several years. After hearing of opportunities for trade in Asia, Hughes purchased a brig, Hero, in Calcutta and traded opium in the Indian Ocean and seas of China, having to contend with pirates.[1]


Hughes emigrated to South Australia in 1840, started business with Bunce & Thomson and took up land. Hughes suspected the land on which he kept sheep contained mineral deposits and informed his shepherds to look for minerals.[1] In 1860 the Wallaroo copper-mine was discovered on his property, and in 1861 the even more important Moonta mine was discovered nearby. Hughes secured the largest interest in both mines and became wealthy, despite paying several thousand pounds to rival claimants.[1] In 1873 he joined with Thomas Elder in bearing the expense of the exploring expedition under Colonel Peter Warburton. In 1872 Hughes offered £20,000 for the endowment of a theological college. It was, however, felt that so large a gift might be better used to found a university, and Hughes agreeing, the Adelaide University Association was established.[1] The act of incorporation of the University of Adelaide was passed in 1874, but practically speaking the University did not begin to operate until three years later.

Late life[edit]

Hughes and his wife subsequently returned to England, and bought the Fancourt estate in Chertsey, Surrey.

Hughes was knighted in 1880. Around this time he formed a partnership with P. B. Burgoyne, who was building up a market for fine Australian wines (notably Tintara) in London, and was in dire need of capital.[3]

He died at his home on 1 January 1887[1] after a long illness.[4] He has been frequently referred to as the "father" of the University of Adelaide. The report of the council of the university for the year 1887, in recording their regret at his death, called him "the Founder of the Chair of Classics and of the Chair of English Language and Literature, and Mental and Moral Philosophy--whose munificence led to the establishment of the University".


On 22 September 1841 Hughes married Sophia Richman ( – June 1885), eldest daughter of John Henry Richman, who arrived in South Australia with his family aboard Thomas Harrison in February 1839. They had no children.

Hughes was an uncle of Sir John James Duncan, and an ancestor of Adam Goodes.[5]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Dirk Van Dissel, 'Hughes, Sir Walter Watson (1803 - 1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, MUP, 1972, pp 440-441. Retrieved 11 August 2009
  2. ^ Serle, Percival (1949). "Hughes, Walter Watson". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  3. ^ "Out among the People". The Register News-pictorial. XCIV, (27, 479). South Australia. 10 September 1929. p. 6. Retrieved 15 December 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ "Sir W. W. Hughes". Evening Journal (Adelaide). XVII, (5039). South Australia. 25 July 1885. p. 5. Retrieved 18 December 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ Who Do You Think You Are Series 6, Episode 6 — Adam Goodes. Aired 12 August 2014