History of West Australia/John Edgar

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Greenham & Evans.

AUSTRALIAN pioneers supply examples of what energy and determination will do. Most of the successful and rich men of Australia have themselves, in their enterprise and laudable ambition, to thank for their present happy positions. Certainly the colonies held out splendid opportunities for the acquisition of wealth in one lifetime, but it was not everyone who was sufficiently courageous to take the opportunities. Some were too cautious, too nervous, preferred to bury their one talent under the ground. Meanwhile, the successful men invested their two, and five, and ten talents, and now they have many thousands.

We have already told in the Hon. A. R. Richardson's biography the story of the few young men who left Portland, Victoria, chartered a vessel, and with food supplies and stock went to the north-west country of Western Australia and settled. One of the number was John Edgar, of whom we now write. With his friends, Mr. Edgar possessed the true colonising instinct. His character was made up of energy, enterprise, and industry. He heard of the goodly lands passed over by a Western Australian explorer, and he was as ready as his companions to brave hardships and possible want in order to seize what appeared a great opportunity. His has been a quiet but busy life in this colony, and he is now reckoned as one of our richest and most successful pastoralists. His enterprise has proved the value of millions of acres of Western Australian lands.

John Edgar was born in Scotland in 1847. Five years later, his father, Mr. Walter Edgar, and family came to Australia, drawn by the sensational stories of gold discoveries in Victoria. So many men were becoming wealthy every day that there were few in Great Britain who did not wish to take their chance among them. Mr. Walter Edgar, did not, however, engage in gold digging. He went to the Western District in Victoria, and managed a large station, known as Mullah. His wife and family accompanied him to the colonies, and thus John Edgar gained his experience in Australian pastoral pursuits. During the years of his boyhood he observed the methods of his parent, and he wisely yearned to emulate the success of Victorian pastoralists. The opportunity came. In 1864-5, a few young men of Portland talked together of opening a station in our north-west country. They had eagerly read the exploration reports thereon, and happy was it for them that their minds were filled with a glowing belief in its richness. They put their money together with the permission of their parents, chartered a vessel, purchased sheep and embarked them, and with ample food supplies sailed to what to them proved a veritable land of Canaan. Mr. Edgar was then eighteen years old, and full of eagerness to begin his new work. He was fired with energy and hope.

The young fellows signed a deed of partnership for four years and selected the Pyramid Station. The sheep were run over the best portions of the holding, and thrived under the joint supervision. Ultimately, the management devolved on the Hon. A. R. Richardson, and other members of the party were scattered over surrounding country. For four years Mr. Edgar was gaining invaluable colonising experience, and at the end of that period he managed a station for Messrs. Mount, Orkney, and Smith. He did not remain in this position long, for he looked most hopefully to the possibilities of wealth in pearling. Thereupon he went in extensively for pearling, and he followed this attractive trade with zest from Exmouth Gulf to King's Sound. For seventeen years, during six months of each year he went pearl-shelling, and numerous and valuable were the treasures of the deep he brought to the surface and sold. Pearling paid him well, and he purchased the interest of Mr. Charles Harper (at present member of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia) in the De Grey Station, of 1,000,000 acres. He thus became a partner, with a third interest, of Messrs. McKenzie, Grant, and Anderson, in that lucrative estate. On the station about 80,000 sheep now run, and return handsome profits. A small part of the original holding, known as Muckin, about seventy miles from the head station, has been sold to the well-known Darlot Brothers. In subsequent years Mr. Edgar has gradually increased his possessions in broad acres, and his estates in Western Australia to-day would astonish British landowners, reckoning as they do millions of acres, over which run sheep, and cattle, and horses. He bought into the Cherrita Station, thirty miles south-east of Roebourne, which comprises 120,000 acres, where graze 20,000 sheep, besides cattle. His partner in this is Mr. J. E. Richardson. More recently (about two years ago) he purchased, with others, the Cheriton Estate, near Gin Gin. Here are 20,000 acres, 9,000 of which are of such splendid soil that the proprietors—Edgar, Wedge, and Co.—supply Coolgardie and other goldfields with fresh meat, vegetables, &c. Several acres are planted in cabbages, turnips, and pease, and the company, if necessary, could supply Perth, Fremantle, and nearly all the goldfields with these highly necessary articles of diet.

Recent years have witnessed improvements in the means of getting produce to market from the De Grey Station. In earlier days much inconvenience was often experienced in obtaining vessels, and the wool was sometimes exceedingly late in getting to London. At present a vessel calls in at Congdon Creek, near by, where the proprietors are able to embark their produce and despatch it direct to the world's markets. Mr. Edgar speaks highly of the uses of the blacks on the stations. Under kind, considerate treatment they can be made of great service, and prove very willing to work, and work hard. They look upon the stations as their homes, and consider it the greatest punishment that can be inflicted on them to be turned off these resting-places. It is refreshing to hear a gentleman of Mr. Edgar's position speak so generously of these dark people, for it is too often observed that pioneers give most doleful accounts of their utility under the influence of civilisation. Probably everything depends on their treatment.

Mr. Edgar makes his principal home-station at Pyramid, where he has a handsome residence. He was gazetted a Justice of the Peace in 1883. He must be esteemed as among our most valuable pioneers, and his enterprise in opening up new country and in using his capital in developing the resources of soil deserves the warmest approbation. It was indeed a happy day when the young Portland youths decided to come to Western Australia.

[Mr. Edgar died in 1897, since the writing of this sketch.]