History of West Australia/Florance C. Broadhurst

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WHILE the role a man will play in life is often determined by what may appear to be an accidental circumstance, yet it would be too much to say that the success or failure of a career depends upon luck, which the ne'er-do-well is always bemoaning for leaving him among the shoals and miseries of misfortune. A good start is only half the battle, just as an indifferent player will spoil a good hand at cards, or a ship with a favouring breeze without careful steering may get upon the rocks. And what to a superficial observer may appear to be that very intangible entity called luck, is often the result of intelligent calculation and tireless perseverance in following a certain course of action to the goal of triumph.

Florance C Broadhurst HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

It is comforting for mediocrity to hug the belief that it never had a chance to rise in the world, but after all the majority of failures would if they spoke the truth, confess that "it is not in their stars," but in themselves that they are "underlings". The resourceful worker does not complain that he can find no standing place—he makes his own standing place, as Archimedes was told to do when he said that he could move the world with his lever if he could but find a foot-hold.

The Messrs. Broadhurst, father and son, followed the advice when they became identified with the Abrolhos Islands, and turned them into a gold mine.

Florance C. Broadhurst, son of Mr. Charles Edward Broadhurst, a former member of the Legislative Council of Western Australia, has sprung from a family which is remarkable for its commercial enterprise. Mr. Broadhurst, sen., initiated the pearling industry in Sharks Bay, 1872, and also established fish preserving works at Mandurah, where the delicious sea mullet is packed for the delectation of consumers on the goldfields and in the other colonies. To a man of such resourceful spirit it was natural that a secret of much value should have been recognised at a time when it was somewhat rare to find in Western Australia a capitalist and a trader who would go out of the ordinary grooves in search of wealth. The information was taken from the excellent works of Captain Stokes of H.M.S. Beagle, a man of keen observation who, while he was surveying the coast in 1840, perceived that there were stores of guano, the accumulation of ages, lying unused on the Abrolhos Islands which run fifty miles north and south, and are situated forty-five miles from Geraldton. Mr. Broadhurst seized upon the opening that was thus presented to him with all the decisive action of the typical American, and soon obtained possession of the immense deposits of the unrivalled fertiliser, in which phosphate of lime is so large a constituent. Upon his application the Government granted him a long lease of the islands for the purpose of working the guano beds, which have since proved a source of wealth to the family, no less than 48,000 tons of the material being shipped between the years 1884 and 1896.

Having made an independence, Mr. Broadhurst retired from active business life, and leaving his affairs in the charge of his son, Mr. Florance C. Broadhurst, went to reside in London. The young manager, who was born at Kilmore, Victoria, in 1861, found his hands very full of weighty responsibilities, but he proved himself quite deserving of the confidence reposed in him, and the operations of the firm are now known all over the civilised world. Arriving in the colony with his father, who had come to Western Australia from Victoria in order to take charge of the Denison Plains Pastoral Company, he was educated at the Government School, Perth, and afterwards received a mercantile training. In 1888 he was promoted to take the sole control of the export trade of the Abrolhos Islands, which has now assumed very large proportions. At different times no fewer than ninety vessels have been chartered to take cargoes of guano to Mauritius, London, Hamburg, Antwerp, New Zealand, Java, Tasmania, or to Fremantle, and forty Malays are employed by Mr. Broadhurst on the islands all the year round. The eager demand for supplies of the guano in the United Kingdom and on the continent of Europe made it necessary for Mr. Broadhurst to undertake an extensive tour through those countries in order to organise the trade on a large scale and to appoint agents in the leading cities.

Mr. Broadhurst has kindly supplied us with a very graphic account of the chief characteristics of the Abrolhos Islands, which possess a great deal of interest for the naturalist. He says:—"The islands lie very low on the horizon, so that they are not perceived by shipmasters who have not previously visited these waters until they are closely approached. In anything like hazy weather they might be mistaken by a stranger for a streak of cloud low down on the sky-line, for at high water the islands are not more than fifteen feet above sea level. They are of coral formation, which probably accounts for their having for centuries been the favourite resort of myriads of sea birds, who, in the interstices of the coral, found nesting-places already provided that were entirely suitable for the hatching and bringing up of their broods, in sheltered nooks, where the warmth necessary for successful incubation could be uniformly maintained. In excavating the guano, which covers the islands for a depth of about two feet, there is disclosed cavities so thickly pitting the surface of the coral that the islands may be said to be honeycombed all over; certainly these holes are closer together than the burrows of a rabbit warren, and when they are filled up by the droppings of the birds the feathered population must have felt very exposed and homeless, but by that time they had become too much attached to the islands by their associations with the home of their ancestors for countless generations that they did not care to leave them. No one who has not visited the Abrolhos can form any conception of the multitude of birds which fly to them at night and leave in the morning in search of food. If you disturb them by the firing of a gun or by a sudden shout so as to make the various flocks take wing simultaneously, the sky is darkened as though by a sudden eclipse of the sun, the ground seems to be moving like a sea, in weird gloomy shadows cast by the beating wings. There is an infinite variety among the species of the birds, including the true sea eagle, the cormorant, the sooty tern, noddy tern, gulls, divers, stormy petrel, and mollymawks—all the sea birds common to these climes. When they are flying together the noise is like the roaring of the wind through the rigging of a ship in a gale."

Mr. Broadhurst, who is a member of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, spends a good deal of his time on the islands superintending the loading of the vessels and in observing the habits of the birds; in their bleak citadel he has many interesting experiences. He also carries on a large and important lighterage business at Geraldton, the shoal waters of the harbour prohibiting the larger merchantmen from berthing alongside the pier. Mr. Broadhurst has helped to promote the mining interest with quite as much if not more benefit to the community than to himself, inasmuch as he has not drawn any large prizes from his ventures, but he remembers with pleasure that he was one of the members of a syndicate which sent out Mr. Clarence Browne, who found Mount Sir Samuel in the Murchison district. Mr. Broadhurst was married, in 1892, to Miss Heslop, daughter of Mr. John Heslop of "Murrafield," Edinburgh, and he has a family of two children.

Although Mr. Broadhurst has, to use a common saying, been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it cannot be doubted by anyone who is acquainted with his clear-sighted methods and organising power, that if his patrimony had been a pewter ladle he would soon have been able to discard the base metal for one that possessed the hall mark of Goldsmiths' Hall. As His Excellency the Governor, Sir Gerard Smith said, on a recent occasion, in replying to the toast of his health on the day that a Parliamentary party assembled at "Carlisle," Guildford:—" Some men are born with a power to do credit to the commercial genius of the British race, and such men build up the national prosperity, together with their own, by their intuitive adherence to the principles of sound finance and trade." The description may be aptly applied to Mr. Florance C. Broadhurst.