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Charles Edward Broadhurst (1826-1905): A remarkable nineteenth century failure

McCarthy, Mike (1989) Charles Edward Broadhurst (1826-1905): A remarkable nineteenth century failure. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study began in 1983 with my archaeological investigations at the wreck of the SS Xantho (1848-1872), the first steamship to be operated out of the Colony of Western Australia. The excavation revealed, among other things, that the vessel was poorly and inefficiently engineered, and that to drive the vessel forward the engines had to be run in reverse. The historical records showed that the SS Xantho had a very short existence as the colony’s pioneering steamship. The records also showed that it was operated in a remarkable and almost innovative fashion, firstly as a transport in the pearling industry, and secondly as a ‘tramp’ steamer.

These considerations prompted me to take a close look at Broadhurst, a man about whom little has been written.

He has since proved to be an extraordinary and poorly understood colonial entrepreneur who was involved in many activities central to the development of the North of Western Australia. Broadhurst was described by his peers as ‘a capitalist and trader who would go out of the ordinary grooves in search of wealth’, and when he died in 1905, he was eulogized in the local press as one of the ‘most indefatigable and persevering exploiters of the infant industries of Western Australia in his day’. Despite this, a striking feature of Broadhurst was the ‘grand’ and almost naive approach he had to his business ventures, one that led him to fail in almost everything he attempted. Like many others in Western Australia, he was a man whose decisions were based on imperfect information and who suffered greatly from the problems of effective decision making at a distance. He was also a complex man, and was described in the press on the one hand, as ‘a man out of 10,000’, and on the other, as a villain and perpetrator of dark deeds and injustices.

This examination of Broadhurst’s career will lead to a better understanding of him and of the ventures and industries in which he was involved. Many of these have aspects which are poorly understood. One of these was the settlement of the North of Western Australia by Victorian interests, such as the ill-fated Camden Harbour Pastoral Association and the Denison Plains Pastoral Company. Another little understood development in which he was involved was the pearling industry out of Nickol Bay (Cossack), where he introduced ‘diving apparatus’ and used ‘Malay’ labour and ‘volunteer’ Aboriginal convicts in the pursuit of shell. At one time Broadhurst was also the leading pearler at Shark Bay. He was a pioneering steamship owner, a Member of the Legislative Council, a Justice of the Peace, an acting Resident Magistrate and was involved in fish canning and in other pursuits, such as coconut growing, shopkeeping and guano mining.

During his life in Western Australia, Broadhurst was embroiled in many controversies and was considered by the Colonial Administration to be a man ‘most unfortunate in all his enterprises’. It is possibly for these reasons that he has not been previously studied in any depth.

Despite his business failures, Broadhurst was one of Western Australia’s most intriguing, influential and poorly understood nineteenth century entrepreneurs. A study of him, not only leads to a greater appreciation of the ventures in which he was involved, but also to an appreciation of the value of examining the careers of those who failed.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Economics and Commerce
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Tull, Malcolm
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