Walter Watson Hughes
Sir Walter Watson Hughes (1803-1887), pastoralist, mine-owner and public benefactor, was born on 22 August 1803 at Pittenweem, Fife, Scotland, son of Thomas Hughes and his wife Eliza, née Anderson. He attended school in Crail and was apprenticed to a cooper, but soon went to sea and for some years was whaling in the Arctic regions. Hearing of good openings for enterprise in the East he voyaged in 1829 to Calcutta where he bought the brig Hero and traded in opium in the pirate-infested Indian and China seas.
In 1840 Hughes arrived in Adelaide where he settled to mercantile pursuits with Bunce & Thomson. On 21 September 1841 he married Sophia, daughter of the pastoralist and solicitor, James Henry Richman. In the financial crisis of 1840-43 Hughes turned to sheepfarming near Macclesfield in the Adelaide Hills and by careful management salvaged enough to buy another flock which he took north. In 1851 he took up The Peak at Hoyleton in the mid-north and in 1854 with his brother-in-law, (Sir) John Duncan, and family leased the vast Wallaroo station.
In 1872 the council of the new Union College, which included Hughes's friend, Rev. James Lyall of the Flinders Street Presbyterian Church, approached him for a donation. His gift of £20,000 so exceeded the council's expectations that it decided to use the money to found a university instead. Hughes wanted two professorships to be endowed and reserved the right to nominate the lecturers already teaching at the Union College. The council of the University Association foresaw difficulties in these proposals and their desire to have them modified nearly caused Hughes to withdraw his gift; the problem was solved when one Hughes professor died and the other resigned within five years of the opening of the University of Adelaide. Because Hughes's gift inspired others to make similar ones, he is often called the 'Father of the University'.
In 1864-70 Hughes was in England and returned there permanently in February 1873, living at Fan Court, Chertsey, Surrey. In 1880 he was knighted for his services to South Australia. After a long illness he died on 1 January 1887, predeceased by his wife in June 1885 without issue. Both were buried in the village churchyard of Lyne, near Chertsey. His vast property was left to relations, including the children of Sir James Fergusson whose second wife was Lady Hughes's sister.
Hughes, like Thomas Elder, (Sir) William Milne and Robert Barr Smith, was one of the many Scotsmen whose public spirit and rise in influence were outstanding in the colony. Shrewd, gentle and kind, he had little formal education but shared the Scottish respect for learning. A window in his memory in the Flinders Street Presbyterian Church is now in Scots Church, Adelaide. In front of the university which his generosity brought into being is his statue, carved by F. J. Williamson and presented by the Duncan family in 1906.Biographical SourceAdapted from Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972