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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Neales, John Bentham (1806–1873)

by H. J. Finnis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

John Bentham Neales (1806-1873), by unknown artist

John Bentham Neales (1806-1873), by unknown artist

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 15386

John Bentham Neales (1806-1873), auctioneer and politician, was born on 13 June 1806 in Plymouth, England. His father and his mother Elizabeth, née Bentham, both died when he was young, and he became the protégé of his uncle whose bequest financed his migration to South Australia. Neales arrived in Adelaide in June 1838 in the Eden. He promptly began business as an auctioneer and agent under the title of Neales Bentham, transposing his name to avoid confusion with another agent called Neale. Neales reverted to his correct name in 1842 when Neale left Adelaide.

In 1839 Neales bought land at Port Lincoln and became the first editor of the short-lived Port Lincoln Herald, published in Adelaide. In 1841 he helped to form and manage the South Australian Mining Association that worked the Wheal Gawler silver and lead deposit newly discovered at Glen Osmond. Revived in 1845, the association acquired profitable copper mines at Montacute and at Burra, when Neales as an original shareholder made a substantial fortune. He inaugurated an unsuccessful search for gold in 1846, and ten years later advocated the mining of iron ore and local smelting. With this record he was often called the father of mining in South Australia.

Neales was prominent in advancing urban development to encourage investment and immigration. In the pit of depression in 1843 he risked unpopularity by resisting the importation of juvenile offenders from Parkhurst Prison and, as a member of the Board of City Commissioners in 1851 and later as a city councillor, he pressed energetically for new roads, water supply and sanitation for Adelaide. As early as 1846 he tried to establish a gas company and three years later subscribed heavily to the abortive City and Port Railway Co. When South Australia gained a part-elective Legislative Council in 1851 he won the North Adelaide seat by mild criticism of Downing Street's control of colonial land and strong advocacy of the possibility of the colony's untapped resources. Confessing High Church and Tory parentage he took a middle course between the radicals and conservatives and was appointed to the select committee that drafted the compromise Constitution of 1853. After responsible government he represented Adelaide in 1857-60, Stanley in 1862 and the Burra in 1862-70, serving twice as commissioner of crown lands and immigration. He was largely responsible for imposing taxes on the livestock of pastoral lessees in 1858 and in 1865 for empowering company formation and miners' associations with limited liability. Outside parliament he was prominent on the turf and as chairman of public meetings. His lively fluency and bustling enthusiasms made him a popular figure as well as winning him wealth.

In 1843 Neales married Margaret, the daughter of William Williams and Margaret, née Barnard, by whom he had two sons and three daughters. He died in Adelaide on 31 July 1873.

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  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

H. J. Finnis, 'Neales, John Bentham (1806–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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