Alexander Hay

Alexander Hay

Alexander Hay was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1820. As a young man he left London on the Planter on 25 November 1838 and arrived after six months in Port Adelaide on 15 May 1839. He found his first jobs working on the wharves. With hard work and a little luck he was able to open a shop in North Adelaide in partnership with James Nicholson.

When the financial crash in South Australia was at its worst in 1841, Hay became a shepherd. By 1845 the economic prospects for South Australia and Hay had improved enough for him to start shopkeeping again. He also felt financially secure enough to ask Agnes Kelly, a bonnet maker of Balhannah, who had arrived in South Australia in September 1840, to marry him.

Within a short time they had eight children. Peter in 1846-1848, Agnes in 1848-1849, Margaret in 1849-1916, Susan in 1850-1851, Mary 1852-1891, Agnes in 1854-1933, James in 1855-1908 and Helen in 1858-1861. As was very common in those days, four of their children died before their third birthday.

During this time business prospects kept improving and by 1849 Hay started to buy land. During the gold rushes of the early 1850s Hay was willing to buy gold at the highest market price at his shop in Rundle Street. Some of his profits he invested in land. On 18 August 1855 he bought sections 125 and 130 at Kooringa. By the end of the 1850s he owned thousands of acres and a large number of city properties as well. In 1856 he built a large house for his growing family at Beaumont. A year later he appointed managers for some of his businesses and leased some others to give him time to enter parliament.

On 26 February 1857 he was elected unopposed as a Member for the District of Gumeracha and again on 27 April 1860. He resigned on 11 December 1861 but was once again elected on 31 March 1865. He remained a Member of Parliament until the age of seventy.

In 1862 Alexander Hay took his family for a visit to the 'old country'. During their stay in England, Hay had their home in Beaumont completely rebuild. It was now possible for the children to have their own rooms and for Mrs Hay to entertain in style. Sadly Agnes Hay was not able to enjoy it all for very long. She died on 3 August 1870, aged only fifty-three. She was buried on West Terrace Cemetery where four of her children had already been buried. While in London in 1866 Alexander Hay attended the funeral of John McDouall Stuart, Australia's greatest explorer, at Kensel Green Cemetery.

After the death of Agnes, Alexander Hay married Agnes Grant Gosse (1837-1909) in March 1872. He had been introduced to Agnes Gosse at a function in 1867 at which the Gosse family had also been present. Hay and his second wife soon had an additional four children. Gertrude, 1873-1952, Alexander 1874-1901, William 1875-1945 and Helen 1877-1909.

Soon after Hay's second marriage a start was made with their new residence Mount Breckan at Victor Harbor. When that was finished they lived there during the summer months and at Linden in Beaumont during the winter when Hay had to attend parliament.

In 1879 Hay introduced a private member's bill to solve some of the problems between the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly. He was also very interested in Education and in 1881 offered twenty thousand pounds towards the building of a Scotch College in Adelaide.

During the 1882 elections, when Hay was living at Linden, he was asked by many electors to allow himself to be nominated as a candidate for the Legislative Council. He agreed and promised that if elected he would, among many other things, make sure that the disposal of Crown Lands would be in such a way that farmers would be able to use it for growing crops and breeding stock and make a profit! He also would advocate the expansion of the railway system and extend it all the way to Darwin.

In 1886 Hay once more took the entire family to Europe staying for almost a year. On his return however he had to face drought and depression which saw the value of his land holdings and businesses sharply reduced. When he died on 4 January 1898 it became clear to the family that major reductions had to be made to balance the books.

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