top of page

The Duncans of Hughes Park, Watervale

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

Captain Hughes, their benefactor

and the Duncan graves at Penwortham


"Captain Hughes", (illustrated left, as a statue outside Adelaide University) was a pastoralist, a copper miner, public benefactor and a founder of the University of Adelaide, South Australia.

Hughes was referred to in tantalising ways, such as ‘a sly old fox' by Thomas Elder, an 'opium smuggler', [he] 'should have been hanged by the neck', and 'a crook'.

He even confessed in one of his last letters to his nephew John James Duncan shortly before his death, ‘I’ve been a sinner all my life’- Patricia Sumerling

Tombstone of Joan Duncan died 1856
The tomb of Walter Hughes' sister Joan, the wife of business partner Captain John Duncan

Walter Watson Hughes

Walter Watson Hughes was born 22 Aug 1803 in Pittenweem, Fife, Scotland

Walter Watson Hughes was educated in the small Scottish town of Crail, where he was

apprenticed to the trade of a cooper, making barrels for whale oil.

Being of a rather restless, roving disposition, however, he took to the sea, and rose to be chief officer of a vessel at the age of 26, when he made a voyage to India.

  • Seeing a field open for him in Calcutta, he made a voyage there as chief mate of a ship in 1829.

  • Succeeding in his venture he bought the brig Hero (illustrated above right), and traded between Calcutta and China, mainly in opium. Thence his common name: Captain Hughes

  • For nearly twenty years he lived in the East; but the climate telling upon his constitution, and South Australia offering a fresh field for enterprise,

  • he came to this colony in 1840, and engaged in mercantile pursuits in conjunction with the firm of Messrs, Bunce & Thomson. But when Bunce & Thompson went bankrupt in 1844, Hughes turned his interests to sheep farming on Yorke Peninsula.

  • After the SA crisis of 1842 paralyzed business, he started sheep-farming on the Yorke Peninsula on Lease 147.

Captain John Duncan

Captain John Duncan born 1 May 1818 in Fife, Scotland, and married W.W. Hughes' sister Joan Hughes (1817 - 1856) who was born 20 Jul 1817 in Scotland.

-- About the Arrival of Captain Duncan and Family at Port Adelaide - (illustrated at left: Possible portrait of Captain Duncan) (click for more info.)

-- Possible matching emigrant records:

Taymouth Castle, 682 - tons.- John Duncan, master, with emigrants (not listed) 6 February 1854 ➜ 2 May 1854 Plymouth - Port Adelaide


Gravestone of Captain John Duncan of Wallaroo at St Mark's cemetery, Penwortham SA
Tombstone of Captain John Duncan of Wallaroo, died 9 April 1880

Bengal (barque), 350 tons, Duncan, master, from Liverpool Elder and Co, agents . Company's Wharf.

  • 22 August 1853 ➜ 19 December 1853 Glasgow - Port Adelaide

Captain Duncan had first arrived in Adelaide in 1841 and engaged in sheep farming with his brother-in-law W W Hughes at the Hummocks,

  • but he went back to Scotland and made several voyages to India as Captain Duncan;

  • in 1854 he returned to South Australia with his family and again joined Hughes on pastoral leases near Wallaroo.

  • There his wife died, he became a justice of the peace and, when copper was found near Wallaroo in 1859, helped to develop the mines as manager.

The Captain Duncan Family

Married Joan, died 8 December 1856 at Wallaroo, with no medical help. (buried at Penwortham, see gravestone above), aged 56.

Married Helen, born July 16, 1830, died August 12 1918

They had at least four sons, and one daughter (pictured above left):

  1. John James Duncan (12 February 1845 – 8 October 1913) (illustrated below left) was a politician in the colony and State of South Australia. J J Duncan was born the elder son of (sea) Captain J. Duncan He inherited the Hughes Park estate and Gum Creek estate at Farrell's Flat, as well as shares in the Moonta Copper mine.

  2. Walter Hughes Duncan, (29 April 1848 – 12 May 1906) MP for Burra, South Australia (Illustrated below right). He was a successful pastoralist, owning "Mernowie" of 1,800 acres (730 ha) near Marrabel and was a shareholder in the Wallaroo and Moonta mines. He inherited Oulnina Station (sold Fri 18 Jan 1907) and died in 1906.

  3. William Andrew Duncan (born Wallaroo 15 April 1864, died 9 April, 1933.

  4. Robert Duncan born 1866 (died early at Hughes Park, July 9 1890, see above left)

  5. Helen Chalmers Duncan, youngest daughter of John and Helen Duncan (25 September 1868 - 12 December 1946)

Since Walter Watson Hughes and his wife were childless, in his will he left his enormous holdings to various relations.

(12 February 1845 – 8 October 1913) Gum Creek Station and Hughes Park went to his nephew, the politician and accountant John James Duncan, (illustrated left) with the proviso that his eldest son should perpetuate the name of Hughes by incorporating it with Duncan.

was the second son of Captain John Duncan (as above), the MHA for Burra, South Australia. (Illustrated right)

Walter Hughes Duncan (29 April 1848 – 12 May 1906) was a South Australian pastoralist and politician.

He was a member of the South Australian House of Assembly from 1896 to 1906, representing the electorates of Onkaparinga (1896-1902) and Murray (1902-1906).

Duncan came out to South Australia with his parents in 1854, aged 6 years old;

  • his father (Captain Duncan) was a partner with his brother-in-law Sir Walter W. Hughes

  • He married (Mrs. W.H. Duncan participated at Hughes statue opening, see news report below) but no children are known

  • Oulnina Station which he inherited from W W Hughes was sold Fri 18 Jan 1907 by J. J. Duncan after Walter Hughes Duncan died in 1906.

Bronze figure of W W Hughes, seated outside Adelaide University Mitchell Building
Statue to Sir W W Hughes at Adelaide University

(Illustrated below:) Sir S.J. Way (right) and the Hon. Thomas Price (centre), the Premier of S.A. and the Hon. J.J. Duncan, M.L.C. (left) attending the unveiling of the statue of Sir W.W. Hughes at the University of Adelaide.


Sir S.J. Way (owner of Kadlunga station) and the Hon. Thomas Price, the Premier of S.A. and the Hon. J.J. Duncan, M.L.C. (owner of Hughes Park) attending the unveiling of the statue of Sir W.W. Hughes at the University of Adelaide.

The Hon. J. J. Duncan and. Mr. W. H. Duncan, M.P., (the two nephews who inherited Hughes' estates) have promised to present a bronze statue of their uncle, Sir Walter Hughes, to the Adelaide University.

  • They had a conference with the members of the council of that institution recently. It was then decided that the statue should be erected on the plot of land between North terrace and the main building, immediately in front of the entrance.

  • This is an eminently suitable site, as the foundation of the University was due to the munificent gift of £20,000 made by Sir Walter to its funds.

  • In 1872 he was desirous of making a donation of that sum to Union College, Adelaide, which had been' established for the training of candidates for the Nonconformist ministry, but he was induced, mainly by the Rev. Dr. Jefferis, to apply the money to the endowment of a university on a broader basis.

Below: Hughes Park estate homestead, built by W W Hughes, pictured in 1875:

Below: Hughes Park estate homestead expanded with a second storey: pictured in 1910

Sir W.W. Hughes at Hughes Park

A fine stone cottage was on the property dating from the 1840s but Hughes was a wealthy man and so he had a grand mansion built here around 1862/3.

  • Hughes built a large single storey dwelling with 72 acres of clipped lawn and a four acre clipped olive hedge garden.

  • After Hughes’ return to England his nephew John Duncan lived here. In his youth Duncan had received part of his education at Stanley Grammar School in Watervale.

  • In 1875 Hughes Park was given to John James Duncan to occupy and Duncan enlarged and added a second storey to the mansion in 1900 with fine stone work and a three storey tower.

Following W W Hughes' death in 1887 in England. (Sir) John James Duncan (gravestone illustrated below) inherited both Gum Creek and Hughes Park properties.

The Duncan Family at Hughes Park

John James Duncan was first the husband of Jane Morison (Harvey) Duncan — married 5 Nov 1873, but she died 1874.

  • He became the husband of Lady Jean Gordon (Grant) Duncan — (1860 -1927) married 27 Aug 1879. She became Lady Duncan from 1912 - 1927

  • John James Duncan was knighted in 1912, only a year before his death in 1913

In 1871, at 26 years of age, Duncan was elected to the Port Adelaide seat in the South Australian House of Assembly, then when that district was broken up in 1875, to the seat of Wallaroo.

  • He resigned in 1877 to make a trip to Europe, and while in France acted as a commissioner for South Australia at the Paris Exhibition in 1878.

In 1884 he was elected to the seat of Wooroora, and held that seat until 1890 when he resigned to assist in creating the National Defence League.

  • The following year he was elected to the Legislative Council for the North-Eastern district.

  • In 1896 he retired to visit England.

  • In 1900 he was returned unopposed, and from 1901 was leader of the Liberal Party, and served on the Legislative Council until his death.

  • He was gracious in manners and was deeply respected by his political opponents.

After an operation for gall-stones he died at a private hospital in North Adelaide on 8 October 1913.

  • ​He was buried in the family ground at St Mark's Church of England, Penwortham, (illustrated above) the mourners travelling by train to Saddleworth and thence to the cemetery by char-à-bancs.

Hon. J. J. Duncan was the father of:

  1. Mary Hughes Fotheringham Born 8 Jan 1881 at Hughes Park First-born Mary Hughes (Duncan) Fotheringham — married 21 Apr 1920 (to 16 Feb 1952) in Adelaide, South Australia. Died 6 Jan 1966 at age 84.

  2. Senator John Grant Duncan-Hughes, (1882 - 1962)​ Born 1 Sep 1882 at Hughes Park

Senator John Grant Duncan-Hughes

John Grant Duncan-Hughes, was a lawyer and pastoralist, and was born into the politically minded Duncan family on 1 September 1882 at ‘Hughes Park’, near Watervale, South Australia.

  • He was the eldest of the four sons of John James (later Sir John) Duncan, pastoralist and politician, and Jean Gordon, née Grant.

  • His brother Walter would become a member of the South Australian Legislative Council from 1918 to 1962, and President of the Council from 1944 to 1962.

  • John Grant’s surname was changed to Duncan-Hughes when he was a child, in memory of his childless great-uncle, Sir Walter Watson Hughes, a pastoralist, whose fortune from copper mines on Yorke Peninsula helped found the University of Adelaide, and whose property, including Hughes Park, was left largely to John Duncan on condition that his son take the Hughes name.

Known as Jack, John Grant was educated at St Peter’s College, Adelaide, and, during a family sojourn in England, at Cheltenham College.

  • He went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated Bachelor of Arts (1905) and Bachelor of Laws (1906), becoming Master of Arts in 1910.

  • He was admitted to the Bar at the Inner Temple, London, in January 1907, and to the South Australian Bar in December 1908, practising as a solicitor in Adelaide from 1909.

Gertrude Rosalie Duncan-Hughes, 25 February 1925

On 20 September 1910 Duncan-Hughes married Gertrude Rosalie Dean, daughter of Brigadier General G. H. Dean, CBE, VD, at St Matthew’s (Anglican) Church, Kensington.

  • In 1920 he was appointed aide-de-camp, then private secretary to the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson.

  • HE INHERITED the estate in 1913 when father J.J. Duncan died in hospital.

  • They had no children.

  • He was the Liberal parliamentarian for the seat of Boothby (1922–1928) in the Australian House of Representatives, won at the 1922 federal election. In the 1931 election, he stood successfully as a senator for South Australia (1931–1938).

    • The sets of journals owned by J.G. Duncan-Hughes are held in the Barr Smith Library in the University of Adelaide.

    • He collected 6,200 rare books, now at National Library of Australia -the 'Duncan-Hughes Collection'

  • The Duncan‑Hughes family were part of South Australia’s social elite. John was a member of the exclusive Adelaide Club from 1907 to 1962, serving as president from 1935 to 1937. He was also a member of the Australian Club in Sydney from 1927 to 1962.

3. Sir Walter Gordon Duncan, politician (1885 - 1963) Born 10 Mar 1885 at Hughes Park.

On 20 October 1909 at Chalmers Church, North Terrace, Adelaide, he married with Presbyterian forms (sister-in-law) Bessie Graham Fotheringham;

they lived at Parkside and were to have three children:

  1. John James Duncan, (1912 - 1997) the father of

    1. Jock Duncan of Gum Creek, and

    2. Walter Duncan, now lives at the Heritage Garden

  2. Margaret Grant (Duncan) Skipper (1914 - 1999) (tombstone at right) and

  3. Jean Gordon Duncan (1916 - 1963) (buried with Sir Walter and Bessie)

Sir Walter Gordon Duncan (1885-1963)

Sir Walter Gordon Duncan (1885-1963), pastoralist and politician, was born on 10 March 1885 at Hughes Park, near Watervale, South Australia, third of six children of (Sir) John James Duncan, a Scottish-born pastoralist and politician, and his second wife Jean Gordon, née Grant, from England.

  • The family derived its considerable wealth from the pastoral and mining activities of John's father Captain John Duncan and maternal uncle Sir Walter Watson Hughes.

  • Young Walter was educated at Cheltenham College, Gloucester, England (1897-98), and at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide.

  • Athletically rather than academically inclined, he captained the school cricket team in his final year and maintained a passion for the game, along with riding, racing and golf.

  • Leaving school in 1903, Duncan worked at Hughes Park, and on other family properties—Gum Creek, near Burra, and Manunda in the saltbush country near Yunta.

Properties: Gum Creek (SA) and Hughes Park (SA)

Gravestone of Sir Walter Gordon Duncan (1885-1963)


  • AMP Society

  • Goldsbrough, Mort & Co Ltd

  • BHP

  • Adelaide Steamship Co

In 1918, as a Coalitionist, Walter was returned to the Legislative Council as a member for Midland, the district which his father had represented in 1900-13.

  • His ability, and an electoral system that favoured rural property owners, kept him there for forty-four years.

  • An astute, practical and likeable man, Duncan emerged as a major figure in the State's commercial, agricultural and political life.

A source of personal and professional satisfaction to Duncan was his long association with the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia. As president in 1924-25 (and also in 1932-50) he oversaw the move from North Terrace to the Wayville showgrounds; much of the new venture's success was due to his efforts.

  • The Society preserves his memory with the naming of the Duncan Hall and the historical Duncan Challenge Trophy, featured in an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from September to December in 2013.

Duncan was one of the Liberals who ended fourteen years of feuding with the State Country Party by negotiating a merger which formed the Liberal and Country League in June.

  • A member of the South Australian gentry, and of the Adelaide (from 1914) and Australian clubs, Sir Walter led the council in 1932-44, defended States rights and was deeply suspicious of any suggestion of socialism.

  • In 1939 he was knighted.


4. (Capt.) Keith Anstruther Duncan, (12 Nov. 1886 - 22 Mar. 1955) grazier, Born in Glenelg SA. Was the grazier in charge of both Gum Creek and Hughes Park estates.


5. Captain Colin Robert Duncan OBE (1892 -1966) diplomat,

Born 29 Oct 1892 in Glenelg, SA; married 13 February 1920 to (a society beauty) Cecily Coatman Catterall (born 1893, died 24 Dec 1987).

Colin Duncan was one of three sons to join the military.

  • Lieutenant Colin Duncan was appointed the A.D.C. to the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson (later Lord Novar) in June 1918, for three years.

  • Capt. Colin Duncan was private secretary to His Excellency the Governor of SA)

  • Later he and his wife moved to England, and when visiting them there, Lady Duncan died of pneumonia in 1927.


Sir John James Duncan's youngest child was:

6. Jean Gladys Joan (Duncan) Dean (1896 - 1981) Born 21 Aug 1896 in "Strathspey", Mitcham, SA.

Jean married Alan Ernest Dean in Adelaide, South Australia on 6 January 1920.[2]

The following marriage notice was published in the South Australian newspaper, The Observer, on 17 January 1920: [3]

DEAN—DUNCAN.—On the 6th January, at the Presbyterian Church, Flinders street, by the Rev. George Davidson, D.D., Alan Ernest Dean, Captain 1st (D.Y.O.) Lancers, Indian Army, youngest son of Col. G. H. Dean, to Jean Gladys Joan, younger daughter of the late Sir John Duncan and Lady Duncan, Strathspey, Mitcham.

Jean was granted a divorce from Alan on 3 October 1946 by the Supreme Court of South Australia.[4]

  • Jean died in South Australia on 4 January 1981.[5]

  • Jean's remains were cremated at the Centennial Park Cemetery in Pasadena, South Australia on 6 January 1981, and

  • the ashes were then interred at St. Mark's Anglican Cemetery in Penwortham, South Australia.[5][6]

Alan Ernest Dean

Born 2 Jul 1893 in Kensington Park, South Australia, Australia

77 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page