HENTY, Edward (1810-1878)

HENTY, Edward (1810-1878)
pioneer, first permanent settler in Victoria
was born at West Tarring, Sussex, England. The date of birth usually given is 10 March 1809, but the death notice in the Argus on 15 August 1878 stated he was in his sixty-ninth year, and the date of birth given on his tombstone at Kew is 28 March 1810. His father, Thomas Henty, who came of a well-known Sussex banking family, married Frances Elizabeth Hopkins, and Edward was their third son. The elder Henty inherited £30,000 on reaching his twenty-first year, bought the property generally called the Church Farm at West Tarring, and gave much attention to the breeding of merino sheep. Some of these were sent to Australia in 1821 and brought high prices. The family was a large one, eventually seven sons and one daughter grew to maturity, and it was thought that there might be better opportunities for the sons in Australia than in England. In 1829 James Henty (q.v.), the eldest son, went to Western Australia with two brothers, Stephen and John. They remained for two years and then left for Tasmania. In the meanwhile Thomas Henty had sold his English property and also sailed for Tasmania. He arrived at Launceston in April 1832 with three more of his sons, Charles, Edward and Francis. It was difficult to find suitable land in Tasmania, and Edward was sent to explore the coast of the mainland. He reported that the district near Portland Bay had good possibilities, and after revisiting it with his father it was decided that the land was suitable for settlement. Edward went first on the Thistle with labourers, stock, potatoes and seed. After a voyage of 34 days the Thistle arrived at Portland Bay on 19 November 1834. Edward Henty was only 24 years old and early in December, using a plough he had made himself, he turned the first sod in Victoria. The next voyage of the Thistle brought his brother Francis with additional stock and supplies, and in a short time houses were erected and fences put up.
The British government had been so anxious to have land taken up in Western Australia, that the Hentys not unnaturally thought no objections would be raised to their obtaining land in the Port Phillip district. Application was first made in 1834 and negotiations continued for many years. The father, Thomas Henty, died in 1839, and it was not until 1846 that the matter was finally settled, when the Hentys were allowed £348 for improvements at the port, and were granted 155 acres of land valued at £1290. The remainder of their land they had to buy at auction. The obstructive attitude of the government at Sydney to new settlers may be illustrated by an extract from a dispatch of the governor, Sir George Gipps (q.v.), to Lord John Russell, dated 11 April 1840. "The Messrs Henty, like the first settlers at Port Phillip, claim to have rendered good service to the government and to the colony of New South Wales by opening a district of country, which might otherwise have remained unoccupied for a number of years; but, so far from considering this any advantage, I look upon it as directly the reverse, not only because the dispersion of our population is increased by it, but because also we are forced prematurely to incur considerable expense in the formation of new establishments. I have already, in consequence of the proceedings of the Messrs Henty, been obliged to send two expeditions to Portland Bay, and I am now under the necessity of organizing a police force there, and of laying out a town, besides incurring expense for the protection of the aborigines." The thought that the many thousands of pounds spent by the Hentys in developing the country might eventually be of benefit to the state had apparently not entered into the minds of the authorities. Neither could they have anticipated that the first sale of crown lands which took place a few months later would yield the sum of £17,245.
Edward Henty was not discouraged. His brother, Francis, had joined him in December 1834, and during the next five years other members of the family joined him, and gradually the whole of their horses, cattle and sheep were transferred from Tasmania. On 29 August 1836 the exploring party headed by Major Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (q.v.) reached Portland Bay and were amazed to find the country inhabited. In later years Edward Henty was fond of telling the story of Major Mitchell when he came to a hut, from which blows of a hammer rang, saying, "Where is Mr Henty, my man," and the reply of the burly blacksmith, "Here he is at your service." From Major Mitchell Henty learned the character of the land to the north, and gradually he was able to acquire more land. In 1845 he had over 70,000 acres. Sometimes the price of wool and sheep fell very low and it was impossible to sell either to advantage; but over the years the stations prospered. In 1855 Edward Henty was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Normanby and was re-elected in 1859. He was defeated in 1861 and did not sit again in parliament. His last years were spent in retirement at Melbourne and he died on 14 August 1878. In October 1840 he married Annie Maria Gallie who survived him. They had no children.
Edward Henty in addition to being the first permanent settler in Victoria was the founder of the wool industry in that colony. He was a man of strict integrity and great courage who quickly adapted himself to the conditions of his new country. Victoria was fortunate in having so fine a type of man for its first citizen. His portrait is in the historical collection at the Melbourne public library. His brother James is noticed separately. Of his other brothers, Stephen George (1811-1872) was a member of the legislative council of Victoria, 1856-70. Francis (1815-1889) became the successful owner of a station and died at Melbourne on 15 January 1889. William (c. 1809-1881) went to Tasmania and for over 20 years from 1837 practised as a solicitor. In 1857 he was elected a member of the legislative council for Tamar and was colonial secretary in the Weston (q.v.) cabinet. He held this office for five and a half years. He went to England in 1862, eventually settled at Brighton where he died on 11 July 1881, and was survived by a daughter. He was interested in Shakespeare and after his death a small volume by him, Shakespeare with some Notes on his early Biography, was printed for private circulation. This has little value but contains a memoir of the author by R. Harrison.
Rev. G. Henty Balfour, The Victorian Historical Magazine, February 1931; E. Henty Smalpage, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXI, pp. 73-83; R. D. Boss, First Years at Port Phillip; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XX to XXII; Men of the Time in Australia, 1878; D. Blair, The Cyclopaedia of Australasia; N. F. Learmonth, The Portland Bay Settlement; A. S. Kenyon, papers at P. L. [Public Library?] Melbourne; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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